ASHKABAT (Reuters) - The influential head of the Olympic Council of Asia has dashed hopes that athletes from Oceania nations, including Australia and New Zealand, might be able to compete in the Asian Games from 2022.
Athletes from the two countries took part in the Asian Winter Games as "guests" in Sapporo earlier this year and the Australian Olympic Committee said talks were being held about extending the invitation to the summer versions.
Nineteen Oceania nations are represented for the first time at the ongoing Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan but OCA President Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah said the Asian Games was already too big.
"I hope at the next Indoor Games we will have the same experience and Oceania will continue with us in the Indoor Games," he told a news conference, adding that the Asian Beach Games might also be an option for Oceania athletes.
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"With the Asian Games we are already at 15,000 athletes and officials and we cannot add to that number.
"In the Beach Games and Indoor Games we can continue to have our coordination and cooperation, but for the Asian Games the number is very high and we cannot have an Olympic Village with more than 15,000 people."
Next year's version of the quadrennial Asian Games, which is second in size only to the Summer Olympics, takes place in Indonesia with the 2022 edition scheduled for Hangzhou, China.
Australia has long entertained the idea of forging closer ties with Asia in the hope of exposing their athletes to stiffer competition.
In 2006, Australia's national soccer body ditched Oceania to join the Asian Football Confederation but previous attempts to compete at the Asian Games have failed.
They had the backing of China, who want tougher competition especially for their swimmers, but not Sheikh Ahmad, who is also the president of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) representing more than 200 countries worldwide.
AOC President John Coates, another influential member of the International Olympic Committee, said in Sapporo in February that participating in the Asian Games would be "very good" for Australia.
"Discussions are underway and I believe there would be great interest in the Asian Games amongst our member sports," he said.
"Particularly in sports where the Asian countries are strong such as gymnastics, badminton and table tennis."
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Greg Stutchbury)