Let the Games commence!
The moment, seven years in the making, of the start of the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games is finally within touching distance, as the Games action begins on 16 September, a day before the Opening Ceremony on Sunday night.
It is a moment that took the energy and effort of a country, as Turkmenistan came together to produce what will be remembered as the most spectacular version of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games ever seen.
The occasion is momentous not just for Turkmenistan, but for the wider region as well. Never before had a Central Asian country been chosen to host such a major multi-sport event. But for the young countries making up this fledgling region, the example set by Ashgabat will infuse confidence and inspire others to follow on the path blazed by the Turkmen.
Today, the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games visits the land of the Silk Road – tomorrow, it may be the chance for the Olympic Games, a major football tournament, or even a Formula One Grand Prix, events designed to put a destination on the map and to burnish its credentials as a major sporting nation.
Hosting the Games is a task of supreme magnitude, one that wouldn’t have been possible to tackle without the leadership that devised and delivered the Games in their journey from idea to reality.
At every level, from the highest ranks, with the blessing and encouragement of the Esteemed President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov; to the Executive Committee that oversaw the day-to-day creation of the Games machine; and to the thousands of volunteers, officials and workers who delivered every single step of the way – a whole country contributed to what will be a moment of pride.
Everyone followed a path set in stone, one that led to this day, as the Games are about to start.
As the Games begin, it’d be easy to lose oneself into the sporting extravaganza and enjoy it for what it is – a competition where world-class athletes will give their best to bring pride to themselves and their nations.
But the importance of these Games goes beyond – it reaches to the important legacy they will leave behind, something that will affect Turkmenistan, the region and the whole sporting world of Asia for generations to come.
Turkmenistan is a country on the way to a sporting renaissance, as its athletes of today and tomorrow become inspired to be the champions of the future. With infrastructures, facilities and a new mindset focussed on healthy, active living, they will be taking the first steps towards becoming a major sporting nation.
While Central Asia will receive a confidence boost from hosting their first major event, the whole of the continent will receive a positive shock to the system as the Games open up to Oceania. The influx of athletes from powerhouses such as Australia will provide competition at the highest level – and from this raising of the bar will come a quality surge across the continent.
Closer to home, however, the Games will affect Turkmenistan well beyond the sporting realm. The hosting of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games spurred the country into an investment spree, aimed at providing a modern infrastructure and top class facilities for the capital city. Not just stadia have been erected in the immaculate Ashgabat Olympic Complex: also medical centres and educational facilities have emerged, structures and institutions that will underpin future generations of Turkmen students.
Evidence shows that the Turkmen population has fully embraced the Games. From the thousands of people who registered to volunteer to those who took part in commemorations and events in every corner of the country, people young and old have shown the famous Turkmen hospitality. As the thousands of fans, athletes and officials come to the country from Asia and farther afield, a whole nation is ready to welcome them.
There is no doubt that Ashgabat 2017 will be of the highest sporting quality. Rio 2016 medallists will line up alongside some of the best interpreters of combat games and non-Olympic sports. There will be records, there will be memorable bouts and new pages of sporting history will be written.
As the curtains opens and Ashgabat 2017 begins, the world’s spotlight is on Turkmenistan. A country that has prepared for this moment for so long now has its chance to shine. The build up to the Games has been a dream, but as the country awakes to its new place in the world of sport, reality is just as sweet.