The athletes strode into the zone stadium at Addu City, proudly sporting their school colors, while being cheered on by public spectators, community leaders and officials.
The Maldives 17th Atoll Inter School Athletics Meet kicked off on Monday night in a colourful ceremony decorated with a spectacular laser show, music and dance. A total of 673 young athletes from 20 different schools across Maldives will be competing in the three-day sports event sponsored by Daily Milk.
As the excitement grows in Addu with athletes fighting to progress in to final rounds, a number of interested schools were reportedly unable to participate due to huge transportation costs.
According to the city council, this event is a “an important step to rehabilitate Addu city’s image”.
Addu, the second most heavily populated area in the Maldives after Male’ and the scene of the SAARC Summit in November 2011, was hit hard during the recent political crisis, as reports of the protests, arrests and arson attacks on public and police property made international headlines.
But beyond the damage to reputation, the city was gripped by a violent social divide, which fragmented the long standing peace and threatened potential economic investments.
However, Mayor Sodiq said in an interview to Minivan News on Sunday that the athletics meet is a the beginning of a mission to restore the social harmony and create a better image for Addu.
“Following the recent political crisis, Addu has suffered social disintegration as the political friction intensified between different groups,” Sodiq observed.
“However, through social events like this, we aim to restore the peace, social harmony and encourage community participation in our city’s development.”
He noted that the athletics meet has already attracted participation from different public spheres. Almost all the 1000 visitors who are currently in Addu for the competition are sharing homes with Addu families.
The business community has provided generous sponsorship to the athletics meet and the ongoing nigh market in the city.
Meanwhile, civil society also played a crucial role: “If TakeCare and Maavahi NGO had not drafted the project proposal to host the athletics meet here, we might not be having this mega event in our city for the fifth time,” the Mayor noted.
The competition was first started in Addu in 1996 and since then it has been held in the souther-most atoll four times.
He added that the event was organised by a joint committee of athletics board officials, civil society and the city council, which was backed by almost 300 energetic youth volunteers.
“This event has provided us a unique opportunity to participate and gain valuable experience in organising a big event like this,” said 18 year-old Ahmed Azaan, young member of the organising team.
“Others in the committee are an old crowd, so working with them, meeting people and doing the preparations – we are learning a lot.”