The Asian Games are the second largest international sports event in the world, only overtrumped by the Olympic Games. With almost a century of history, their origins can be found in the Far Eastern Championship Games, which were established by American YMCA-members in 1913 and lasted until 1934. After the Second World War the Games were re-founded as the Asian Games and have steadily grown in size since they were first held in New Delhi in 1951.
From the beginning, Olympic and amateur sports values like fair play, sportsmanship, team play and keeping sports and politics separated were encouraged so as to bring different Asian countries together in a peaceful atmosphere and to spread friendship or at least mutual respect between them. Traditional sports ideologies, however, sometimes complicated the adaption of these “Western” values. The political situation in Asia, including European and American late colonialism, the Japanese expansion and later the Cold War, also strongly influenced the pan-Asian dimension of the Games.
At the same time, the Games were part of the nation building and “modernization” projects of individual Asian societies, ultimately helping to promote a national identity and to gain international prestige. They served to symbolically represent the host country in various ways, for example by staging a “glorious past” or a “splendid future” via ceremonies, architecture, culture programs and winning athletes.
My presentation therefore focuses on the following questions:
Did Asian athletes and officials act according to the Olympic and amateur sports values? Did their behaviour (in and outside of the stadium) depend on the nationality of the athletes they had to deal with? Which Asian nations were willing or allowed to participate and at which point of time? What kind of identity - national identity of the host country vs. pan-Asian identity - was dominant in the symbolic staging and at which point of time? Were the Games instrumentalized to support certain political ideologies?
Stefan Huebner studied Medieval and Modern History, Political Science, Philosophy and Japanese Studies at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, the University of Glasgow, the University of Zurich and Doshisha University. Currently, he is a Research Associate and PhD-student at Jacobs University Bremen.