[Sponsored Article] The competition will be fierce, but the respect and camaraderie between athletes will be the gold standard following a wonderful expression of sportsmanship from lead athletes of the host country for the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games taking place from 17–27 September. Several of Turkmenistan’s most prominent sportsmen and women have joined hands to deliver a united message of solidarity to their fellow athletes travelling in for 12 days of world-class competition in their capital city of Ashgabat. More than 6,000 athletes and officials from 65 delegations respresenting Asia and Oceania will be arriving to compete in the biggest ever multi-sport event to have been staged in Central Asia, and they are set for a very warm welcome indeed. With just days to go until the Opening Ceremony on 17 September, four athletes have encaptured the Games motto of Health, Inspiration, Friendship by extending the hand of friendship to the sporting world which can collectively inspire a generation to lead a healthier lifestyle. Swimmer Merdan Atayev is one of Turkmenistan’s most prominent athletes having carried the country’s flag at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. “Just like any athlete competing at Ashgabat 2017, I want to win, but the importance of us hosting and competing in this event extends far beyond the podium,” said Atayev, who will go for glory in the 50m and 100m backstoke. “To have so many athletes coming to my country is a truly humbling situation. Many of us have competed around the world and enjoyed the hospitality that countries provide, but now it is our turn to open our home to our friends and to show them the true warmth of Turkmen hospitality and culture. “I remember carrying the Turkmenistan flag in Rio de Janeiro. Nothing will ever compare to that feeling of pride that I felt. We all arrived in Rio behind our individual flags but we then united under the banner of sport once inside the stadium. Only sport has this power and it will happen again in Ashgabat when 65 delegations become one family.” His message of friendship was echoed by Wrestler, Seydilla Tazayev, a real medal prospect for Turkmenistan at Ashgabat 2017. “Yes, it is important to win medals, but for us, as the host country’s athletes, it is also important that we leave a positive lasting impression on our guests, no matter from where they have travelled in from,” said the 2017 Asian Junior 60kg Champion. “For centuries, we pride ourselves on the hospitality we have provided to our guests and we can’t wait to open our arms wide to say ‘welcome to Turkmenistan’ to the thousands of people coming here.” Local Indoor Athletics fans will be looking to the likes of Alisher Sadulayev to deliver home glory on the track having set new personal bests in both the 100m and 200m this year. “For me to be able to speak as a member of the Turkmenistan team at this moment in our history is a huge honour,” he said. “I’m a native of Ashgabat so this will be an incredibly proud moment for me and so many more of my teammates. I have a lot of good friends overseas who have been asking me many questions. I truly believe that the Athletes Village will become a hive of friendship. “So many lessons for the world could be learnt by how the athletes will conduct themselves during these Games. Together we can send a message of peace, unity and understanding to the world.” There is no doubt that the story of Ashgabat 2017 will be recorded in golden letters in the history books of this proud country, and Nasiba Surkiyeva, who will compete in Belt Wrestling and Traditional Wrestling, believes the event’s message of harmony will be a lasting legacy from the Games. “During the competition we must respect our opponents as adversaries, but away from competition we must respect all athletes as fellow human beings,” she said. “Many of the thousands of people travelling to compete will be visiting my country for the first time. It is not easy arriving in a new city but I want to reassure everyone that our primary mission as Turkmen is to make them feel a part of our family. “Ashgabat will be their adopted home for the duration of everyone’s stay and no matter where they come from, whatever their language, religion or nationality, everyone will be welcome.” Turkmenistan has made a considerable investment in turning Ashgabat into a world-class host city with a state-of-the-art Olympic Complex developed in the heart of the city. It will host 13 of the 15 sporting venues that will stage 21 sports during 12 days of competition.