Asian Games 2014 kicks off with the biggest ever Maldivian team

The largest sporting event in Asia, the Incheon Asian Games 2014, has officially kicked off with 13,000 athletes from 45 Asian nationalities participating in 42 different sports.

The event officially started on the Friday (September 19) with a lively opening ceremony featuring a large fireworks display, 10,000 athletes from 45 nations and a performance by South Korean superstar PSY.

The Maldives team, with a contingent of more than 200 competing in six disciplines, is the biggest ever Maldivian group to represent the country at an international event.

The Maldivian flag bearer for the ceremony was Ismail Sajid, one of the key members of the volleyball team.

The six disciplines in which the Maldives team is competing are badminton, athletics, swimming, beach volleyball, football and – for the first time – a women’s handball team is representing the Maldives.

The Maldivian government reportedly gave the contingent a sum of MVR3.8 million (US$247,074). In addition they are believed to have received financial support from the organisers of the Asian games covering their transportation and accommodation cost.

Speaking to local media, vice president of the swimming association of Maldives Ismail Shareef, said that the Maldivian swimmers are not aiming for medals but to outdo the current national records for swimming – many of which fell during July’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“It is extremely hard to earn a medal at the Asian games. We do not even have the proper facilities to train for such high caliber events,” said Shareef.

Not having the proper facilities and guidance to train for such events is a complaint heard often within the Maldivian sports community, which often has to train in under equipped facilities and sometimes unsafe training environments.

Earlier this year, badminton was stopped as the Malé Ekuveni Sports complex was closed after the building was deemed unsafe, leaving the national team with no venue to practice and the Badminton Association of Maldives having to cancel an international tournament.

The government has promised a sports complex as part of the Hulhumalé Youth City project and has also pledged to transform Ekuveni into a sports city.