South Korea: “Gangnam Style” singer Psy will headline the Incheon Asian Games opening ceremony Friday as one of the world’s biggest sports events kicks off in a blaze of music and colour.
The pop phenomenon with the world-famous dance will close a lavish spectacle at a new stadium in the South Korean city, heralding the start of 15 days of competition with 9,500 athletes.
Forty-five delegations from across Asia and the Middle East, including North Korea, will file past dignitaries including South Korean President Park Geun-Hye for a ceremony where the top-priced ticket seats cost $1,000.
The 17th Asiad includes the full Olympic programme plus Asian favourites like kabaddi and wushu, making for a packed schedule of 36 sports with 439 gold medals on offer.
Speculation rose on Friday that the Games’ symbolic flame will be lit by actress Lee Young-Ae, the star of the historical Korean drama “Dae Jang Geum” which was a massive hit across Asia.
Organisers will hope the ceremony can create a much-needed buzz around the Games after slow ticket sales, just 18 percent early this week, created an air of apathy.
Many of the matches so far in football, the only competition to start before the official opening, have been nearly devoid of fans with barely 100 at Jordan’s win over United Arab Emirates on Thursday night.
“There are concerns that some events might be empty of spectators,” said a JoongAng Ilbo newspaper editorial on Friday.
“We urge the whole Korean people to pay greater attention to the Asiad and show support so that the games become a success.”
The mayor of South Korea’s third city has admitted that Incheon, which has built 17 new venues, is in financial trouble because of the cost of hosting the Games.
But Korean spirits will rise if favourite Jung Jee-hae wins the Games’ first gold in the women’s 10m air pistol on Saturday, when full competition starts.
South Korea are looking to consolidate second spot in the medals table behind China, who swept a record 199 gold medals and 416 overall at Guangzhou 2010.
China’s juggernaut will quickly get into gear with double Olympic champion swimmer Sun Yang in action against home favourite Park Tae-Hwan on Sunday.
This week’s final build-up has been rocky with two alleged cases of sexual harassment by visiting teams, one of which prompted the expulsion of an Iranian official.
“I hope that over the next 16 days our athletes and you will participate with goodwill and (appropriate) behaviour,” Olympic Council of Asia chief Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah told a meeting of the body’s executive board on Friday.
The executive decided that Indonesia will host the next Asian Games in 2018.
North Korea’s presence has also been a distraction and organisers had to take down the communist state’s flag from venue neighbourhoods after complaints from anti-Pyongyang protesters.