OCA Athletes' Committee chair Mikako Kotani said the Forum was "a great opportunity for the athletes in Asia to get together after five years" ©OCA

Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) Athletes' Committee chair Mikako Kotani said she was "impressed with how active the participants were" at the Athletes' Forum here.

The Forum returned for the first time since 2018 after an easing of COVID-19 restrictions, with 88 participants attending from 43 Asian countries.

It included discussions on safeguarding, the prevention of competition manipulation, athlete career development for sport and beyond and the fight against doping, and presentations from the OCA Athletes' Committee, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes' Commission and Olympic Solidarity.

Behind-closed-doors discussions were also held endorsing the controversial plans for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international competitions.

Former Japanese synchronised swimmer Kotani hailed the opportunity provided by the Forum, and praised those in attendance for their contributions.

"It was very important," she told insidethegames.

"It was a great opportunity for the athletes in Asia to get together after five years, and not only with Asian athletes but having IOC Athletes' Commission members together I think was very meaningful.

"I was very surprised in good way and impressed with how active the participants were.

"When we had a meeting with the IOC, I was telling them 'be prepared, this is Asia, they are going to be very shy', but I blame myself for my first thought.

"I am really satisfied and impressed with how it went."

Kotani also said she was "very impressed to see the progress of Asia" on gender balance, with 46 men and 42 women comprising those in attendance.

IOC Athletes' Commission chair Emma Terho concurred that the Forum offered an important opportunity for representatives from across Asia to connect.

"I think it's really important that they were sharing ideas on what each other have been doing in order to be most effective, and different Athletes' Commissions in this area have been doing a lot of different kinds of projects, and I think sharing those ideas to each other so they can learn from is one big thing," the Finnish official told insidethegames.

OCA director general Husain Al-Musallam added that feedback received from athletes would be valuable to the organisation.

"It's important for Asia and the Asian Games because we have five different Games, and we are dealing with more than 90 different Asian sports federations and International Federations, and we are dealing with 25,000 athletes every four years," the Kuwaiti official, also World Aquatics President, said to insidethegames.

"That’s why it's important to hear their voice, what they want.

"Time has changed, life has changed, and maybe we need to understand from them how we can be changed."

It was revealed at the Forum that 40 NOCs in Asia have Athletes' Committees, with Lebanon, Nepal, Macau and Thailand those remaining without such a body.

OCA head of the athletes' development department and special projects Tony Tarraf, who was instrumental in the organisation of the Forum, said it close to activating an Athletes' Committee with those NOCs.

The announcement of the plans for OCA Athletes' Committee elections at the delayed Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games were described as a
The announcement of the plans for OCA Athletes' Committee elections at the delayed Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games were described as a "highlight" of the Athletes Forum by Tony Tarraf ©Getty Images

"It's very encouraging," Tarraf told insidethegames.

"The full house is very soon because we already met with chair Mikako everyone that still don't have an Athlete Committee with a one-to-one meeting, and we will have a full house very soon.

"We are working on this day and night."

Tarraf said the announcement of OCA Athletes' Committee elections at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games represented a "highlight" of the Forum, and hopes the information learned will help representatives to serve athletes through their NOC roles.

"I was asking myself before coming to the Forum why Athletes' Committees sometimes are not active," he added.

"Today you discovered that they need more guidance, more support, more information, the knowhow, and this is what we are doing now.

"You see that you are doing the right thing.

"I think post-Forum will not be like what was happening before, because we now have strong connections.

"We are directly connected with collecting data correctly, and I think things will get better and better with the programmes, with the connection, with the activation.

"I am so, so optimistic about what is going on, so we are so happy about the outcomes."