Hangzhou: Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the COVID-19 delayed 19th Asian Games on Saturday in the Eastern city of Hangzhou during a shiny and at times raucous opening ceremony on Saturday.
Spectators in the city's 80,000 capacity stadium let out a huge roar as Xi was introduced and walked in to sit with visiting dignitaries including International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Games, delayed a year due to China's measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, will be the country's biggest sporting event in over a decade in several metrics, with around 12,000 athletes from 45 nations competing in 40 sports.
After the Chinese flag was brought out, the first team out was Afghanistan, whose female athletes, based abroad due to sport for women being banned by the Taliban, walked together with their male counterparts. Their flagbearers carried the tri-colour flag for Afghanistan which is used by international resistance movements and shunned by the Taliban.
The nearly-packed 80,000 capacity 'Big Lotus' stadium was decked up elegantly for the occasion and welcomed the athletes from the participating countries, including India, with loud cheers.
After three wushu players from Arunachal Pradesh were denied visa by the Chinese government, India had cancelled the visit of its Sports Minister Anurag Thakur. Indian Olympic Association President P T Usha was not present as she is currently in Paraguay as part of a Parliamentary delegation, though other officials attended the ceremony.
Loud cheers greeted the nearly 100 Indian athletes and officials as they marched into the stadium, led by flagbearers Harmanpreet Singh and Lovlina Borgohain. The Indian contingent walked out for the athletes' parade in eighth position.
From the tennis team, only Ramkumar Ramanathan participated in the parade since the other players have matches on Sunday.
The male athletes were clad in bandhgala jacket and khaki kurta while their female counterparts donned high-necked blouse and khaki-textured saree made from recycled fabrics.
India are fielding 655 athletes in the Games.
Several teams including Chinese Taipei were vocally welcomed by the spectators, but none more than the home team, whose athletes are expected to dominate the medals table once again.
They also mark a stark contrast to the cheerless Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics which took place under China's strict zero COVID conditions.
“I feel excited, particularly as a Hangzhou local," said a man surnamed Zhao on his way into the stadium. "It’s a great chance to show the world how nice our city is… it was also delayed by a year. But that gave us a chance to prepare even better.”
Roads in a sizeable "traffic control area" around the city's Olympic stadium were blocked off, at least one metro station was shut and other Games centres were closed and deliveries were disrupted on Saturday.
Some locals felt the security measures, always tight when Xi makes a visit, were overdone.
"I think it shows they're too nervous, right?", said 45-year-old Hangzhou resident Li Jian. "I think we should be a little more confident."
One local social media user was told due to safety rules surrounding the Games a pencil sharpener they had ordered could not be delivered."How dangerous is the sharpener?," the user wrote. "Will I be able to use it to kill foreign country leaders?"
Organisers have not disclosed spending on the Games, though the Hangzhou government has said it spent more than 200 billion yuan ($30 billion) in the five years through 2020 on transport infrastructure, stadiums, accommodation and other facilities.
The official slogan of the event, "Heart to Heart, @Future", represents the goal of uniting the people and countries of Asia through these games, officials have said.