Australia, NZ set for Asian Games' team events
Oceania nations can take part in team sports like football at 2022 Asian Games
Oceania nations, including sporting powerhouses Australia, have been invited for the first time to compete in Olympic team events such as football at the 2022 Asian Games.
The decision came at a meeting of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) in Bangkok late Sunday, with Australia welcoming the move as "a very positive outcome".
"Australia is very grateful for this opportunity and there will be enormous interest from our Oceania neighbours," said Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates yesterday.
"This is something I have been pursuing for more than 20 years."
The invitation to the Games in China's Hangzhou is limited to volleyball, beach volleyball, basketball, football and fencing, ruling out sports such as swimming and track cycling which Australia would be expected to dominate.
It culminates a long Australian-led drive for stronger ties with the OCA.
"This has been quite a journey that ultimately will benefit athletes in this region," added Coates.
Oceania - Australia, New Zealand and a swathe of Pacific islands - has not taken part in the regional Games before, but sporting ties with Asia have been growing.
Australia have been a member of the Asian Football Confederation since 2006 and had taken part in the East Asian Games in Osaka in 2001 and the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo.
With 35 sports and 10,000 athletes competing, the Asian Games are second only to the Olympics as a global multi-sport event.
Coates said the number of Australian athletes competing in 2022 would likely be contained.
"There's a cap of 10,000 athletes for these Games, so there will need to be some decisions made along the way about which Australian men's and women's teams will compete," he said.
"But the critical thing is our place is confirmed for Hangzhou 2022 and that's a very positive outcome for us."
At the OCA assembly, where Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah was re-elected president unopposed for an eighth term, it was also announced that cricket will be back for the 2022 Asiad.
Cricket has struggled to grow beyond its traditional bases and was last played at the Olympics in the 1900 Paris Games.
OCA honorary life vice-president Randhir Singh confirmed with Reuters that cricket will return in 2022.
Singh, who has been appointed chairman of the coordination committee for the Asian Games, said he visited Hangzhou last month to assess venue options to host cricket.
"They showed us grounds which were a bit small. We asked options for bigger grounds," he added.
The Asian Games remain the largest multi-sports event that features cricket. Guangzhou 2010 and Incheon 2014 included both men's and women's competitions, but the sport was dropped from last year's edition in Indonesia.
The International Cricket Council has been pushing for the game's Olympic return with the shortest 20-over format, and hopes it will find a place at the 2028 Los Angeles Games.
The International Olympic Committee is open to cricket's inclusion, provided all top teams compete. But the Indian cricket board, the sport's richest and most influential, is reluctant as it fears losing its autonomy to the country's Olympic committee. - AFP, REUTERS