The South Asian Games Torch Relay was launched in New Delhi ©IOA

More than 2,000 volunteers and school children have taken part in the start of the 2016 South Asian Games Torch Relay in India's capital New Delhi.

Staged at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, which is known for holding hockey matches, a ceremony got the relay underway as India prepares to welcome around 2,500 athletes to Guwhati and Shilong next month.

They will compete in 228 medal events across 23 sports.

Indian Olympic Association (IOA) President N. Ramachandran presented the torch to Sarabananda Sonowal, the Union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs.

Former weightlifter Kunjarani Devi and Seema Poonia, who won gold in the women’s discus at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, were among several Indian sporting stars who took part in the event.

Sonowal, who is also the chairman of Guwahati/Shillong 2016, expressed his hope that the 12th edition of the Games will help to promote peace, in addition to celebrating athletes' sporting achievements.

“The South Asian Games are the symbol of cohesion, peace and harmony, and sportspersons are the sports ambassadors of their respective countries,” he said.

“These Games will energise the youths of the country.

“This Torch Relay marks the beginning of the South Asian Games, 2016.”

The ceremony was held at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, which is normally used as a hockey venue
The ceremony was held at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, which is normally used as a hockey venue ©Getty Images

His statement comes just days after confirmation that Pakistan would compete after a delegation from India visited the country to reassure them about the team's security.

The relationship of the two countries has been volatile since the violent partition of British India in 1947, with both claiming the Kashmir region in India’s north.

The two nations have regularly been in conflict, including in three major wars in 1947, 1965 and 1971.

Tensions rose again on January 2 after a group of gunmen stormed the Pathankot airbase in the Punjab region of India, killing at least seven security personnel, including India's former Commonwealth Shooting Championships gold medallist Fateh Singh.

In addition to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are due to join the host nation India at the Games in the two host cities.

As final preparations take place before the Games, which are scheduled to take place from February 5 to 16, the torch relay will visit Shillong for a public viewing.

A five kilometre long mini-marathon is also expected to be held within the city.