SAPPORO 2017: Tomorrow, January 19, marks the one-month countdown to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Council of Asia's 8th Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan.
The OCA is very much looking forward to returning to Sapporo, not only because it is the scenic capital city of Hokkaido but also because it is the original home of our Asian Winter Games.
The host city of the 1972 Winter Olympics organised our first two Asian Winter Games, in 1986 and 1990, and has played a pioneering role in the development of the winter sports movement throughout Asia.
We will always be grateful to Sapporo and to the Japanese Olympic Committee for their leadership and unwavering support of the OCA, as this will be the fourth Asian Winter Games to take place in Japan, including Aomori 2003.
The OCA has every confidence in Sapporo putting on a first-class show for the athletes and spectators alike when our 8th Asian Winter Games run from February 19-26, with 64 events in 11 disciplines of five sports at 12 venues.
The local organisers have vast experience in staging winter sports events and their expertise will guarantee a smooth and successful Asian Winter Games Sapporo 2017.
In addition to this, the local people love their winter sports and their national winter sports heroes, and we are sure they will be drawn to the snowy mountains of Sapporo and the ice rinks of Sapporo and co-host city Obihiro (speed skating) to cheer on the Japanese athletes and the rest of the teams.
The legacy of the 1972 Winter Olympics lives on in the venues that will be used for our Asian Winter Games in 2017 – 45 years on. And the winter sports spirit of Japan shines through in the number of countries and regions entering this latest edition of the Asian Winter Games.
The ice hockey tournament, for example, has attracted 26 teams – 20 in the men's competition and six in the women's event. The entry has surpassed all expectations and reflects the growth of winter sports throughout the continent, even in countries where it never snows or freezes.
The entry includes teams from the Gulf – United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and the Independent Olympic Athletes representing the suspended Kuwait Olympic Committee – as well as from South East Asia, such as Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The presence of these teams and athletes from unlikely winter sports countries in such a winter sports hotbed as Sapporo will add value to our games and reflect the true diversity, and unity, of the five zones of our Asian continent.
In addition to this, the OCA and Sapporo will welcome athletes from two Oceania National Olympic Committees, Australia and New Zealand, who will be competing as guest athletes in individual events only and ineligible to win medals.
This agreement highlights the mutual understanding and cooperation between the two continents of OCA and ONOC and gives our friends from Oceania the chance to gain winter sports experience in worldclass venues against world-class athletes from our Asian super powers such as China, Korea, Kazakhstan and, of course, from Japan.
Our Asian Winter Games – Sapporo 2017 will also whet the appetite of winter sports enthusiasts around the world as they will take place just one year before the next Olympic Winter Games, in PyeongChang, Korea, in February 2018.
We are sure that this will create even more interest and excitement in our own event as we count down to the next Winter Olympics, and allow the athletes the chance to assess their level of preparation just one year out from PyeongChang 2018.
The OCA looks forward to welcoming all our athletes and officials, as well as media, sponsors and other stakeholders, to Sapporo 2017 in one month's time.
With the help of our loyal and trusted friends in Sapporo and Japan, we can assure the winter sports fans in Sapporo, Japan and beyond that they will witness the best Asian Winter Games in OCA history!
Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, President.
Olympic Council of Asia