Nick Butler
Nick ButlerSporting action in Incheon at the Asian Games over the last 10 days has been engrossing but also fantastically endearing in a heart-warming sort of way.

This event is a hotchpotch of some of the strongest powers in world sport together with some of the pluckiest underdogs, with many of the most popular sports supplemented by others that are rarely known outside Asia, and a few, it would seem, barely known within Asia either...

This all makes for a fascinating feast of sport in all its glory. And it is great for us journalists as well, who have sporting greats to write about, like Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei in their badminton semi-final yesterday, as well as the weird and wonderful. Cases of the latter range from the Kuwaiti golfer who finished 122 shots off the lead, to the three Nepalese athletes who have gone missing, and the 39-year Uzbek gymnast who was winning medals before her rivals were born.

Right now in the cricket is another good example. This morning Kuwait - who lost their first match in the Twenty20 competition against Nepal with 103 balls to spare after being dismissed for 20 in 14 overs - overcame Maldives without a ball being bowled. The reason? They won via a coin toss after rain delayed the action to the point of no return.

In the current match, South Korea, represented by a group of baseball players recruited by English coach Julien Fountain purely to play at these Games, smashed and hit their way to 88-5 in 10 overs in thrilling fashion against Chinese opponents with a wonderfully cavalier approach to fielding, littered with flamboyant dives and audacious run-out attempts, with the latter invariably resulting in overthrows.

Take a bus to a different venue, and you can see sepak takraw, a Southeast Asian speciality of beach volleyball requiring the ball-control of a footballer, the flexibility of a gymnast and the aggression of a taekwondo player. Or you can watch kabaddi, the national sport of Bangladesh, which seems to bear something in common with the schoolyard game, British Bulldogs, albeit with even more violence.

Or you can see the best divers in the world, a high jumper with a personal best of 2.43 metres and a Japanese wrestler, Saori Yoshida, who has virtually never lost in her entire career.

Kabaddi is one sport virtually unique to the Asian continent ©AFP/Getty ImagesKabaddi is one sport virtually unique to the Asian continent ©AFP/Getty Images

The point I am trying to make is that the Asian Games have a charm and appeal that I have never seen at any other event I have attended, and this should always be remembered when the event is criticised, or minimised in significance.

Yes, there are challenges.

One relates to the difficulty of attracting cities to host future editions of the Games. This comes after Hanoi, the original choice for the 2019 edition, withdrew in April citing "economic pressures" leading to Indonesia being chosen as a replacement host, for a Games that will now take place in 2018 to avoid a clash with Presidential elections. Sri Lanka, the location for the 2017 Asian Youth Games, has also experienced organisational problems, with the event set to be shifted from Hambantota to capital city Colombo in order to take advantage of existing facilities.

As national economies continue to struggle and the demands required to prepare for major events grow, there are likely to be less and less willing volunteers. One possibility raised by Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) President Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah is for Oceanic countries, including Australia and New Zealand, to participate in future editions of the Asian Games. They have already been given entry to the 2017 Indoor and Martial Arts Games, to be held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. 

This, I feel, would make the problem worse as well as better. Yes, it would provide new potential locations where the Asian Games could take place. But, with 63 countries competing instead of the current 45, it would also increase the infrastructural and financial demands on a host city even further.

Although it would increase the standard of the competition, this could also occur at the expense of some of the unique character I have described above.

Would powerful Oceanic nations like Australia, New Zealand and Fiji lessen the spectacle of sports like rugby sevens at the Asian Games? ©Getty ImagesWould powerful Oceanic nations like Australia, New Zealand and Fiji lessen the spectacle of sports like rugby sevens at the Asian Games? ©Getty Images

A second challenge relates to enticing the best players to come in an already packed annual sports programme.

Incheon 2014 has clashed with World Championship events in many other sports - including volleyball, cycling, gymnastics and basketball - leading to some of the top players not being here. We also had a ridiculous situation in tennis when the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) threatened to fine and ban leading male players if they opted to compete in the singles here rather than their China Open event starting in Beijing today.

It is worth saying, however, that these examples are the extremes, and most of the finest stars are here.

A third problem, more specific to Incheon, is the lack of impact and interest here. Most local journalists I have spoken to think there has been little benefit for the local community, with this shown by the large number of empty seats at virtually all the venues. This may be true, but if the atmosphere at the baseball final last night between South Korea and Taiwan is anything to go by, there is certainly some substantial support, in certain bits of it at least.

From our perspective as journalists, there have been the usual problems. Irregular transport, archaic rules and, surprisingly, considering our location, dodgy internet connections.

But these are only minor complaints and, generally, everything has been great, with last night providing a great example of this for me. I walked out of the Munhak Baseball Stadium to find a sea of security guards and flag-waving fans and, about to walk onto the nearest bus, I noticed that it seemed to be the focus of attention and eventually surmised it was not, as I had presumed, media transport, but the South Korean team coach.

The media buses, as it turned out, were nowhere to be seem, and with the hour late and all other journalists seemingly long since gone home, I was getting slightly worried.

But then an Incheon 2014 worker suddenly pulled up in his car and offered me a lift home. After much gesticulating and attempted discussion, and a phone-call to the Media Centre to translate, we worked out directions and he took me back, telling me the name of every English footballer he knew before insisting I was dropped precisely outside the entrance so I was home safely.

It was a spontaneous act of kindness that was great to see.

This followed a baseball final that was thrilling and exciting from start to finish ©Getty ImagesThis followed a baseball final that was thrilling and exciting from start to finish ©Getty Images

So this is why I think the Games mean more than empty seats and long term legacies, and despite these challenges, they have a charm and uniqueness that should be sustained at all costs. 

And as the cricket bubbles to a conclusion with South Korea holding off China in the final over, despite some more farcical fielding, the fact that the match is being played in front of a virtually empty ground is almost insignificant. More important is the fact that so much exciting sport is happening, and interesting experiences are being generated.

Speaking this morning when asked what the real legacy of the Games is, OCA director general Husain Al-Mussalum said it was if a player "enjoyed their time here and enjoyed Incheon".

I think he got it about right, and this applies for fans, officials and journalists as well.

Nick Butler is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here.