An ice sculpture of the Olympic rings is seen during the Pyeongchang Winter Festival, near the venue for the opening and closing ceremony (Reuters)
Japan will be hosting the 2017 Asian Winter Games (AWG), in the cities of Sapporo and Obihiro, starting Sunday. The Winter Games will run through February 26.
AWG is an international multi-sport event run by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) to develop winter sports within its area of coverage. According to the official website, the OCA has 45 member countries.This year, the 8th Asian Winter Games is expected to attract more than 2,000 athletes from 31 countries, competing in five sports, 11 disciplines and 64 events.
With the Winter Games, just a year away from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchan, it is expected to offer a great stage for athletes to rehearse. Pyeongchang will stage Asia's first Winter Games outside Japan next year. This will kick-start a cycle of events in Asia with Tokyo hosting the 2020 Summer Games and Beijing the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Keeping with the sportsman spirit, the Japanese government is allowing the North Korean athletes to enter the country to take part in the Games despite Japan's entry ban on North Korean citizens, as reported in AP. Tokyo will treat the athletes as an exception to its punitive measure taken as part of its sanctions in response to Pyongyang's nuclear tests and rocket launches.
The Sapporo Games will also feature athletes from Australia and New Zealand. At the request of the Australian Olympic Committee, the Olympic Council of Asia and the Sapporo 2017 organizing committee agreed to allow athletes from the two countries to take part as 'guest athletes' in individual sports only, according to AP. However, they won't be eligible to compete for medals.
The 8th Sapporo Asian Winter Games Organising Committee (SAWGOC) looks to enhance tourism, economic stimulation and greater interest in winter sports in the region.
At present, Republic of Korea leads the medal tally with 14 medals, Japan and China follow with 12 and 9 medals respectively.