Secretary General of the Maldivian National Olympic Committee (NOC) Ahmed Marzook fears that the persistent delaying of the South Asian games will be detrimental for athletes both in the Maldives and throughout the region.
“This is a big blow, and not just for us – it’s about regional sport,” he said. “This is the hope for youth in the region – this is the only thing for youth in the region.”
Marzook’s comments follow India’s decision to delay the hosting of the games for the second time. Originally scheduled for next month, the games had been rescheduled for February 2013 due to this summer Olympic Games.
However, during a teleconference with the Indian Olympic Association last week, Marzook was told that the games could not be held in February, with September 2013 mooted as an alternative.
The NOC has yet to receive official confirmation of the postponement, fuelling concerns that the games may even be pushed back to 2014.
This, explained Marzook, would only exacerbate the budgetary problems that have been caused by the delays.
“In 2014 we will be competing in both the Commonwealth and the Asian games. This will be hard if we have the South Asian Games in the same year – imagine the ticket prices for the delegations,” he said.
The postponement of the South Asian games has already caused the NOC financial problems, with money for training coming from rigid government budgets, and contracts already having been agreed with foreign coaches with February in mind.
Despite the success of the Maldives Olympic team at this year’s London games, the international experience was viewed largely in terms of preparation for the proposed regional games in February.
“The South Asian games are the first steps in terms of international exposure for many athletes,” said Marzook.
Despite regulations which state the eight-nation games must be held every other year, the competition was last held in 2010.
Previous aberrations from the biennial rule came in 2001, when the September 11 attacks caused the postponement of the Islamabad games, and in 2008 when issues surrounding the general elections in Bangladesh resulted in delaying the Dhaka games.
“If India can’t host this, who can,” asked Marzook, who argued that the recent Commonwealth Games in New Delhi meant that all the infrastructure for the event was in place.
Marzook argued that the reason for the delay was infighting between the Indian government and its Olympic association (IOA).
The IOA is currently in the middle of a political storm as, this week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) insisted on sending international observers for the association’s elections.
Suresh Kalmadi has been President of the IOA since 1996 but was suspended after being arrested and jailed for his part in a corruption scandal surrounding the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
When asked about the delay in the games, Cultural Attache’ at the Indian High Commission in Male’, PC Mishra, said that the there were “no specific reasons” for the postponement.
“It is an administrative process,” said Mishra, who described Marzook’s concerns as “a little bit premature – an overreaction.”
Marzook said that Nepal had offered to step in to host the games in February, but that India had blocked the move.
Nepal, which is due to chair the next SAARC summit in before May 2013, was reported earlier this month to have fallen behind in its preparations owing to the political standoff in the country.
Bangladesh’s Daily Star newspaper said that Nepal was expected to inform other SAARC foreign ministers of the postponement of the 18th summit at a meeting scheduled to be held alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which is currently meeting in New York.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Maldivian athletes’ next international tournament, Marzook said that training would continue.
He revealed that arrangements were nearly completed for the intensive training of the country’s two top runners in Jamaica.
Azneem Ahmed and Hassan Saaidh – both members of the bronze medal winning 4x100m relay team in Dhaka – will travel to Jamaica after the NOC secured leave from their respective employers – the Police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).