On Saturday, as Xi was introduced and walked in to sit with visiting dignitaries like International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, spectators in the city’s 80,000-seat stadium gave out a loud cheer.
“I hereby declare the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou open,” stated Xi.
The Games, which were postponed by a year as a result of China’s COVID-19 pandemic response plans, will include over 12,000 athletes from 45 different countries competing in 40 different sports, making it the biggest sporting event to take place in China in more than a decade.
The Games will be held in 56 venues, out of which 12 have been newly built.
Al-Assad stood up and applauded as his nation’s squad entered the arena on his first visit to an ally China since the ISIS erupted in Syria in 2011, and the crowd exploded in applause when his image flashed up on a large screen.
Among the dignitaries present were leaders from Cambodia, Kuwait, and Nepal, among others. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, was also there.
Raja Randhir Singh, the acting president of the Olympic Council of Asia, said to the throng that “finally, we can gather for the 19th Asian Games,” to additional applause.
“The one-year postponement was unprecedented in OCA history,” he continued.
The now-repeated zero-COVID policy in China caused the Games to be postponed by a year.
In the hours before the ceremony, security was tight in the area around the arena, with roads closed and police posted on street corners.
Before entry, spectators underwent stringent security checks, and staff members seized food and umbrellas. The recent light precipitation had stopped.
The ceremony’s subject was water, and it honoured Hangzhou’s rich history and natural surroundings as well as its status as the unofficial centre of China’s IT industry.
The 35-year-old Zhang, a spectator, was quoted as saying, “I feel very happy and excited,” by the AFP news agency.
It’s a fantastic accolade for the city, in my opinion.
Jung-Woo Lee, sport policy expert at the University of Edinburgh, told AFP the Games were “China’s post-pandemic soft-power exercise”.
However, controversy has already struck the multi-sport event with a row between New Delhi and China over three Indian wushu fighters, with a trip to the city by India’s sport minister cancelled on Friday.
China refuted Indian allegations that the trio had been denied entry.
Sepak Takraw, or kick volleyball, kabaddi, a sport combining team tag and wrestling, and wushu, a martial art will also be on the calendar in addition to more conventional competitions like athletics and swimming, showcasing Asia’s unique sporting culture.
Meanwhile, in an effort to appeal to younger audiences, e-sports, breakdancing, and sport climbing will make their Games debuts.