17th Asian Games-Incheon 2014 logoChina’s Sun Yang apologised for calling Japan’s national anthem “ugly” Friday, averting a fresh row at the Asian Games after Qatar’s women’s basketball team pulled out in a dispute over their hijabs.

The Olympic champion called his comment, made to Chinese journalists in Incheon, a misunderstanding after he starred on the final night in the pool alongside team-mate Ye Shiwen.

“About the anthem, I’m sorry that some media reported that,” Olympic champion Sun told reporters after defending his 1,500 metres freestyle title.

“Maybe there was some misunderstanding about that. I don’t really know about other countries’ anthems,” he added. “But every swimmer wants to listen to their own national anthem.”

Japan’s swimmers and officials had refused to get drawn into a political row. The team’s head coach said there had been “no signs of agitation or annoyance” at Sun’s remarks.

It avoided fresh controversy at the tournament in Incheon, South Korea after Qatar’s women’s basketball team flew home because they were not allowed to play wearing headscarves.

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) insisted its headwear ban has no “religious connotation” but said it had started a “revision process” after several complaints.

“International tests” on easing the ban may be started in mid-2015, said a FIBA statement.

“While certain groups have interpreted the provisions of the official basketball rules as a ban against the participation of players of certain faiths in basketball competitions, the uniform regulations are of a purely sporting nature,” it added.

Qatar, formally listed as “disqualified” from the Asian Games after forfeiting their first two games, were the only Muslim country to enter a women’s team.

The headgear rule has already been relaxed at national level after a number of complaints. In July and August, Indian Sikh players were forced to remove their headwear at FIBA events.

– ‘Only so-so’ –

Sun won the 1,500 metres freestyle in 14min 49.75 sec, 19 seconds outside his world record but comfortably in front of Japan’s Kohei Yamamoto.

Ye Shiwen, who sent shockwaves through women’s swimming at the 2012 London Olympics, showed she is coming back into form by completing a 200m and 400m individual medley double.

“It’s true that I’ve been a little bit slower since London,” Ye told reporters after emulating her feat as a schoolgirl at the Guangzhou Games four years ago.

“My performance today wasn’t bad but I was intending to swim a bit faster,” she added.

Sun and Ye highlighted another golden night for China as they snatched four wins in the pool and shot up to 91 golds on the medals table, 60 ahead of second-placed South Korea.

Performance of the day went to Chinese lifter Zhou Lulu, who lifted a clean and jerk of 192kg — the most ever by a woman — to take superheavyweight gold.

Despite the huge victory, Zhou said she was not satisfied with her performance which also included 142kg in the snatch.

“It was only so-so,” she told AFP. “I’m disappointed that I didn’t perform well in the snatch.”

Olympic superheavyweight men’s champion Behdad Salimi could not keep up. The Iranian fell short of beating his own weightlifting world record as he had promised.

Salimi failed at a new snatch mark of 215kg, 1kg above his 2011 record, with his last lift but still registered a crushing victory in the men’s over 105kg category.

Pakistan’s women’s cricketers earned their country’s first gold medal when they beat Bangladesh by four runs in a rain-shortened Twenty20 final.

Air conditioning was at the centre of controversy in the badminton but organisers rejected Chinese claims it was deliberately manipulated to help hosts South Korea in the men’s team final.

The Olympic-style tournament’s athletics opens on Saturday with the highlight of the week expected to be Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim trying to break the 21-year-old world high jump record.

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