Vol. 5 Num 789 Tue. August 15, 2006  

10th South Asian Games
Colombo 2006

Festival kicks off quietly

While rain, cricket and a bomb-blast that killed at least seven people in the heart of capital Colombo yesterday gripped Sri Lanka, the islanders' preparation for another big yet less glamorous event -- the South Asian (SA) Games -- took a backseat.

As the final bout of the monsoon kept washing the city on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the news of the terrorist attack within one kilometre of President Mahinda Rajapaksea's residence only served to increase the security cordon around the hotel of the three cricket teams -- India, South Africa and hosts Sri Lanka.

But despite the bomb blast and rain that has been a part and parcel in Lankan life, things moved on with hushed excitement.

Although roads were blocked immediately after the terror attack that targeted Pakistan's ambassador Bashir Wali Mohamed, the shock waves hardly reached other cities.

Even a foreign journalist covering the tri-nation cricket series came to know about the bomb-blast from Indian great Sachin Tendulkar while interviewing him ahead of the tournament opener.

The blast understandably cast a shadow over the tri-nation cricket tournament, but a less noticeable SA Games -- featuring seven Saarc nations and Afghanistan -- kicked off without a hiccup yesterday with three football matches.

The Games of more than 100 million people might not have drawn much attention, but the organisers were working round the clock in a bid to make the gala opening ceremony a success and welcome about 4,000 foreign guests, including athletes.

The biennial event will be officially launched on August 18 at the Sugathadasa Stadium, the 1962-built venue named after former sports minister and chairman of National Olympic Committee Sugathadasa, which holds both football and athletics.

Thousands of school students were busy rehearsing with musical instruments while people were providing finishing touches to the renovation work at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium, where 11 events out of 20 will be hosted. It was originally built in 1991 when Sri Lanka hosted the then SAF Games for the first time. Although since renamed, people all around are still calling it the SAF Games.

The only new venue built for the Games is the Walisara Navy Shooting Range on the outskirts of the city.

Boys rehearsing for the opening ceremony of the South Asian Games outside the main entrance at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo yesterday. Photo: Sadi