ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Games Asian Nations Play

Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia, 1913–1974 by Stefan Huebner, Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2016; pp 416, $42.

“We have to aim at the physical fitness of the entire nation and, more especially, of the youth of the nation” (p 112), India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared on the eve of the third Asian Games, hosted by New Delhi in 1951. “This fitness can only be achieved if we aim high and by organising contests” (p 112). It was a considerable task, yet not the only important thing about a spectacle of friendly pan-Asian competition: these international athletic meets, he said, would also “bring together the youth of many countries and thus help, to some extent, in promoting international friendship and cooperation between nations” (p 112).

The role of Nehruvian soft power in developing a mutual understanding among the world’s lately decolonised nations is well documented. So, to a lesser extent, is the effect of this particular effort within India, a young country with few resources that, nonetheless, quickly defined and communicated a sophisticated consciousness of its place in the comity of nations. The Asian Games—in which the Nehruvian state played a founding role—were but one manifestation of this consciousness within India and its Asian neighbours. This competition and its predecessors doubled up as reflections of the desire of Asia’s ruling elite, at various times, to practise prevailing theories of self-improvement, desirable social order, and national and international self-determination for the host countries.

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Updated On : 22nd May, 2018
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