Preparations for the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) are well underway in Turkmenistan, as less than 10 weeks remain before the opening ceremonies kick off in Asghgabat.
The games, which will be held in Turkmenistan’s capital from September 17-27, are helping shed light on one of the Caspian region’s and Central Asia’s post-Soviet countries, which lies along the famed ancient Silk Road.
With over 7.5 trillion cubic meters of proved natural gas reserves – ranking number six globally –Turkmenistan is better known for its energy resources than athletes and sporting facilities. But leaders in Ashgabat were looking to change that when they pushed for the country to host the games and “promote international diplomacy and a healthy lifestyle for society, using sport as a tool,” according to President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
In 2010, Turkmenistan won the right to host the games after a decision was taken by the Olympic Council of Asia, the National Olympic Committee of Turkmenistan and the Ashgabat city mayor’s office.
“This event will be held for the first time in the history of sport in Central Asia,” Berdimuhamedow said, addressing the opening session of an international sports congress at a tourism complex in Awaza on the Caspian Sea in April. “This is a sign of the high confidence shown in Turkmenistan by the international sports community.”
More than 5,500 athletes from more than 60 countries are expected to compete for medals at the brand-new Ashgabat Olympic Complex. Occupying over 1.5 million square meters, the complex was completed last year and is the largest of its kind in Central Asia, incorporating over 30 different facilities, including competition venues, accommodations and transportation networks.
The 2017 games has as its motto “Health, Inspiration, Friendship,” with Wepaly, a word meaning a loyal friend in Turkmen, as its official mascot that has taken the form of the alabai, a traditional Turkmen dog renowned for loyalty and courageousness.
“Sport and the Olympic movement play a significant role in developing friendship, mutual understanding and cooperation between people. Athletes are the messengers of the world with their skills and ideals to promote a healthy lifestyle,” Berdimuhamedow said in a meeting with the President of the Olympic Council of Asia, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah.
AIMAG will consist of 21 different Olympic sports such as wrestling and swimming, as well as non-Olympic sports like Muaythai, a boxing style that originated in Thailand and includes combat on shins.
E-sports, or videogame competitions, are getting a visibility boost thanks to the 2017 AIMAG. More than 350 million people are reported to play e-sports in Asia and Oceania, the best of which will participate in a series of online qualification rounds in four e-sports held at the national and then regional levels.
West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and East Asia, plus Oceania will field players for the 2017 AIMAG games. The six regions will each provide eight qualifiers, two for each game for the final e-sports tournaments held in Ashgabat.
To pull off this year’s AIMAG, 10,000 specially-trained volunteers are being mobilized to become what Dayanch Gulgeldiyev, the chairman of the 5th AIMAG Executive Committee, calls “the unifying force, the face and soul" of the games.
“The games are designed to consolidate in the minds of viewers all over the world the image of Turkmenistan and as a country with a rich cultural heritage, centuries-old traditions, a unique spiritual heritage, a talented people,” Dayanch Gulgeldiyev said.