Spectators’ faces lit up with excitement as the sounds of music and applause rang out around the National Stadium in Vientiane at the start of the opening ceremony of the 16th Asean University Games yesterday evening.

The stadium was packed with thousands of spectators who were curious to see just how special the opening ceremony would prove to be, with many still remembering the South East Asian (SEA) Games spectacular of 2009.

The ceremony began with a parade of all the competitors taking part, with athletes from 11 nations entering the stadium to march around the track, proudly representing their countries and taking in the scene around them.

Friends, relatives and fans from different nations waved their respective flags, to acknowledge, cheer on and inspire their athletes to strive for their best.

By far the loudest cheers, however, were reserved for the host nation Laos, whose contingent of athletes were the last to enter the stadium. The team was led by flag bearer Mr Sonexay Mangkhuela, a gold medalist in taekwondo at last year’s SEA Games in Indonesia.

Lao Minister of Education and Sports Dr Phankham Viphavanh then delivered a speech, highlighting the history of the Asean University Games and how the event had become a celebrated sporting festival amongst Asean students.

He said every host country had worked hard to promote solidarity, contributing to ongoing goodwill, understanding and camaraderie among the people of the respective nations in the true Asean spirit, and worked to develop the sporting talents of their students.

“Through these contributions and cooperation and the support and trust placed in us by Party and government leaders, we (the games organisers) are confident that the games will run smoothly and, indeed, we highly value the close and family-type cooperation we have received. We will do everything necessary and possible to ensure that the 16th Asean University Games run smoothly, are well organised and successful,” Dr Phankham said.

“As well as promoting and strengthening the development of the Asean Community, these games are a historic event for the National University of Laos, and we take delight in the games’ theme of ‘We are Asean Family’.”

Following Dr Phankham’s speech, Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong presided over the official opening of the games. Representatives of the athletes and referees then took an oath on behalf of their counterparts that competition would be conducted fairly in the spirit of friendship and cooperation.

At this point, the torch relay entered the stadium, with some of Laos’ finest martial artists and other successful athletes selected as the final four pairs of torch bearers.

They ran a lap of the stadium as they carried the flaming torch, which symbolises the spirit of the Asean University Games in burning and shining forever. The final pair of torch bearers carried it to the base of the cauldron to light the flame and officially open the games.

The stadium then burst to life with a spectacular fireworks display, before it filled with colour as more than 1,600 primary school children came onto the field to stage the first of many singing and dancing performances.

Alongside the traditional Lao songs and dances, performances focused on the strength and promise of youth, and on the bees Mittiphab and Santiphab as the official mascots of the games, symbolising friendship and peace respectively.

The Asean University Games were first held in 1981 by the member states of the Asean University Sports Council as a biennial sports event designed to foster friendship, solidarity, unity and harmony between the people and students of Asean nations.

Laos sent its first contingent of athletes to compete at the 9th edition of the games in the Philippines in 1998.

Source: Vientiane Times
December 13, 2012