ISLAMABAD, March 30: The top bosses of the South Asian Sports Federation (SASF) Saturday agreed unanimously to a March 29, 2003 start to the luckless 9th SAF Games.
The Games to be held in Islamabad had to be postponed twice earlier for different reasons and the chairman of the organising committee, Lt Gen Syed Arif Hasan hoped that these do not have to be put back yet again.
The 27th Executive Committee meeting, attended by delegates from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, were told by Arif why the Games could not be staged during the current year. The football World Cup, Commonwealth and the Asian Games were cited as the reasons.
Arif told journalists after the meeting that the organising committee would meet next week to finalise the time-table for the Games, which would now conclude on April 7, 2003.
The meeting chaired by Syed Wajid Ali Shah, president of SASF and the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), also decided to set up a permanent SASF secretariat in Kathmandu (Nepal) on a suggestion put forth by the Indian delegation.
Suresh Kalmadi, leader of the Indian party, who also heads his country’s Olympic Association said that border tensions with Pakistan could be reduced through sports. “People in both countries are keen to see a resumption of sporting ties and when I go back, I’ll try to stress upon my government to resume sporting contacts.”
“I am in Islamabad with the full backing of my government and we will participate in the SAF Games in a full-fledge manner after which hockey, cricket and other sports would follow.”
After what was a seemingly positive meeting with the Pakistan cricket chairman, Lt. Gen Tauqir Zia Friday, Kalmadi said he would also talk to the Indian cricket chief Jagmohan Dalmiya in a bid to pave way for the Indian team to tour Pakistan next April.
Meanwhile Sri Lankan delegate Tuan Reza Latif said that the postponement of the Games meant a loss not just for the host nation but also for the participating countries.
For reasons beyond their control, Pakistan had to postpone the Games first in late September after the terrorist strikes in the United States, rescheduling the event for March 30, 2002. Then again, as tensions between Pakistan and India rose, the regional gala was put back for an indefinite period.
Now, much to the relief of the SAF Games Organising Committee (SGOC) which now has a set date in sight, a skeleton staff would continue to work at the Games secretariat.
Gen Arif said that preparations would be at their peak by October this year, the very month in which the Games were to be originally staged in 2001.
The SGOC boss also suggested starting games for special children at the SAF level, an idea that is said to have been welcomed by the SASF executives who agreed to prepare a working paper in this connection.
He termed India’s participation in the SASF meeting as a good sign and hoped that this would result in a resumption of sporting contact between the two countries.