Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Japan chases surprise go glory at Asian Games

Japan's top professional go players will face an uphill task when they line up against formidable rivals from China, South Korea and Taiwan at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, in November.
The board game, which will be making its debut as an official event at the games, was long dominated by players from Japan, but the country has seen its status slip in recent years.
China and South Korea now habitually vie for the top honors. The leading male and female players currently playing in Japan--Cho U, who holds the Kisei title, and Hsieh Yi-min, who holds the women's Honinbo title--are both Taiwanese. They are expected to compete on behalf of Taiwan at the games.
But Hideo Otake, chairman of the All-Japan Go Federation, which was established to send Japan's team for the Asian Games, said Japan is aiming for gold medals.
"Perhaps we may sound a touch overconfident, but we are sending our players (with that goal in mind)," he told a news conference.
Japan plans to select six male and four female representatives, mainly from among the ranks of title holders.
Candidates include Yuta Iyama and Keigo Yamashita, who hold the Meijin and Tengen titles, respectively, and 9-dan player Shinji Takao, a former Meijin title holder.
The team will compete for medals in three categories--men's and women's team events and pair go (mixed doubles)--between Nov. 20 and 26.
Go has been adopted as an official event at this year's competition partly on the initiative of the host country, China, which has established itself as a go powerhouse.
Go is believed to have originated in ancient China. In Japan, it is more closely associated with traditional culture than modern sport.
"Go has developed as part of Japan's traditional culture and spread to 71 countries and regions," Otake said. "Go is being established abroad as a 'mind sport.' I hope the Asian Games will make people aware of its new attractions."
In China, go is classified as a sport. While the Nihon Ki-in, the Japanese go association, which Otake also heads, comes under the jurisdiction of the Cultural Affairs Agency, the body in charge of go in China, China Qiyuan, is affiliated with the General Administration of Sport of China.
Liu Siming, president of China Qiyuan, saw no distinction: "Go has been classified as a sport since olden times. A sport is a sport, whether it involves physical prowess or mental prowess."
Go is played around the world, particularly in Asia. The International Go Federation has member associations in 16 Asian countries and regions, most of which are expected to send representatives to the Asian Games.
It has been added to the Asian Games events along with xiangq i, or Chinese shogi, under the category of "chess games." Chess was first adopted as an official event at the last Asian Games held in Doha in 2006.
Because of go's classification as a sport, the players at the event in November will be faced with some unfamiliar experiences.
Officials at the All-Japan Go Federation are concerned that players will have to undergo anti-doping urine tests, just like athletes in physical events.
"We are wondering how to deal with anti-doping tests because this is the first time players will take such tests," a federation official said. "We want to take measures to make players feel at ease, such as setting up a consultation service with specialist doctors."
Players risk being banned from domestic go tournaments for up to two years if they are found to have broken the drug rules at the Asian Games.
They are being advised to pay close attention to the ingredients of cold medicines and health supplements to avoid testing positive.
The issue of doping was among the items explained at a briefing session for players in May.
"We cannot imagine body-building drugs having any effect on the game of go," Iyama said. "But I will be careful about what I ingest."

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