Asian Olympic chiefs open door to Oceania atheletes

INCHEON, South Korea - Asian Olympic officials have agreed to allow countries from Oceania to compete at the next Asian Indoor Games, a move that could possibly open the door for sporting powerhouses such as Australia to integrate more into Asia.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the president of the increasingly powerful Olympic Committee of Asia (OCA), said the OCA was open to all ideas but was taking things "step by step".

He said the OCA general assembly, which had previously ruled out the possibility of Australia joining Asia, voted to allow all Oceania nations to enter the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Games, to be held in the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat.

Sheikh Ahmad said the OCA might also consider allowing Oceania to compete at the 2017 Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, a year before South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics.

He said it was too early to say whether Oceania would ever be allowed to join the Asian summer games, which is already second in size only to the Olympics, but left the open the possibility, saying: "We will take this step by step ... and maybe build a success story."

Australia, the most powerful member of the Oceania Olympic Committee, broke with the regional bloc's football federation in 2006 to join the Asian Football Confederation.

They now play their qualifying competitions for future Olympics and World Cups in the region but have been unable to get into the Asian Games.