“Peking may bid,” ran a South China Morning Post headline on October 2, 1982. “China is actively considering hosting the 1990 Asian Games,” the story continued.
The Asiad was to be the first large-scale international sporting event the country would host but the bid launched an eight-year saga of controversies.
The Post explained in a 1983 article that the location of the 1990 Asiad was to be determined in Seoul, South Korea, which was hosting the 1986 games. However, as an ally of North Korea, Beijing had no diplomatic relations with South Korea at the time and it was not certain China would attend.
A Chinese delegation did attend the Asian Games in Seoul, though, and went on to win the bid to host the 1990 event.
Beijing had pledged 2.5 billion yuan for the Games, to be used to build 16 stadiums and other facilities. However, construction delays meant it was touch-and-go whether facilities would be ready in time for the opening ceremony, on September 22, 1990.
“Officials originally hoped the Games sites would be finished in late 1989, but later revised their estimated completion date to April, then to July, and now to September,” the Post reported on July 25, 1990.
Also controversial were the methods Chinese authorities employed to cover budget shortfalls. “The Government has deducted ‘donations’ from individuals’ pay cheques and demanded quota donations from large numbers of work units,” the Post reported on September 11.
Despite the delays, the Games went ahead without major incident, with the possible exception of “snap-happy” Hong Kong athletes breaking formation to take photographs at the opening ceremony, “spilling onto the track so far that the torch-bearer was almost knocked out of his path”, according to a Post report on September 23.
The Chinese team, the largest contingent at the Asiad, won 183 of the 310 gold medals up for grabs. Hong Kong returned with two silver and five bronze medals.