Despite the short notice to prepare for a major meet, the 20th Asian Athletics Championships, scheduled at Pune from July 3-7, will be among the best-organised, declared Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwalla in Mumbai on Friday.
"I have never seen an entire government machinery being pressed for an athletics meet like the Maharashtra government has done for this championship. This will be among the best-ever conducted Asian Championships," said the former sprint ace at a media conference, in the presence of the Maharashtra sports minister Padmakar Walvi.
Maharashtra took up the challenge of hosting the event earlier this month, after Delhi and Jharkhand cried off for various reasons, to fill up the slot left open by the Tamil Nadu government’s withdrawal from hosting it in Chennai due to the expected presence of Sri Lankan athletes.
"The Maharashtra government will spend Rs 18 crore on the championships. We have spruced up all the facilities. We have upgraded the facilities in the sports village (at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Balewadi) to five-star levels," said Walvi.
The state's principal secretary for sports, J S Saharia, said, "Our preparations are upto date."
The president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, Lamine Diack, will reach Pune on Saturday, informed Sumariwalla.
Sumariwalla also announced that a total of 578 athletes, including 150 from the host country, from 43 out of the 45 member nations of the Asian Athletics Association, will take part in the meet. The list includes four World champions and ten defending champions from the last edition in Kobe, Japan.
"This championship has assumed added stature and importance as the winners of the various events would gain direct entry into the Moscow World Championships starting on August 10 whether they reach the A or B qualifying mark or not," said the Olympian.
Among the top athletes are: Mutaz Essa Barshim, the young Qatari high jumper and new Asian record holder at 2.40m; former World champions Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain (women's 1500m); Yusuf Saad Kamel (Bahrain, men's 800m) and Rashid Ramzi (Bahrain, men's 1500m).
Sumariwalla claimed that India will emerge with its best-ever medal haul in the championships' history but refused to say how many of them will be gold.
"The number of nations and athletes participating is a record for the championship," he said, adding that India as the host country can field three athletes per event.
Sumariwalla said most of the equipment required for the smooth conduct of the meet is either in Pune, after it conducted the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2009, or has been brought from Delhi, where it was used for the Commonwealth Games a year later.
"We have not imported any equipment," he said.
He also informed that "100 Indian technical officials who have passed national level certificates and 40 overseas officials who have international certificates will conduct the event".
Sports secretary Saharia said Rs seven crore of the Maharashtra government's grant for the meet is being spent in upgrading the facilities and the remaining Rs 11 crore for the actual organisation of the event.
Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chauhan will inaugurate the championships at 5 pm on July 2 while Union Sports Minister Jitendra Singh is expected to be present for the closing ceremony on July 7.
Men: Su Bingtian (China, 100m), Yusuf Al-Masrahi (Saudi Arabia, 400m), Mohammed Al-Aizim (Kuwait, 800 and 1500m), Dejene Regassa (Bahrain, 500m), Mutaz Essa Barshim (Qatar, high jump), Chang Ming Huang (Chinese Taipei, shot put) and Hadi Sepehrzad (Iran, decathlon).
Women: Guzel Khubbieva (Uzbekistan, 100 and 200m), Genzeb Shimi (Bahrain, defending champion in 1500m but to take part in 800m), Tetiju Daba (Bahrain, 5000m), Shitaue Eshte (Bahrain, 10000m), Satomi Kubokura (Japan), 400m hurdles), Mayookha Johny (India, long jump) and Wassanee Winatho (Thailand, heptathlon).
Image: Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwalla, Maharashtra Principal Secretary for Sports J S Saharia and Maharashtra Sports Minister Padmakar Walvi at the media conference of the 20th Asian Athletics Championships.
Photograph: Sahil Salvi