Indonesia to start 1-year countdown as Asian Games host
By STEPHEN WRIGHT
Aug. 17, 2017
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia starts a one-year countdown clock on Friday as it races to complete venues to host an Asian Games that it hopes will showcase the archipelago as a leading nation in the region and boost its perennially light medal total.
The Olympic Council of Asia originally selected Vietnam as host of the event, which is held every four years, for 2019. But the country's Communist Party government pulled out in 2014 citing cost concerns.
Indonesia stepped in on the proviso it would be allowed to stage the games in 2018 and in two main host cities, leaving Jakarta and Palembang four years to get ready instead of six.
Problems immediately ensued because funds were scarce — the government budget had already been set for 2015 — and authorities in Jakarta and at a national level spent months working at cross purposes.
One year from the opening ceremony, organizers can point to substantial progress, but a sense of trepidation lingers.
"In the end I'm only human," said Erick Thohir, a businessman and part-owner of Italian football club Inter Milan, who is head of the 2018 Asian Games organizing committee. "Of course there is some pressure, some nervousness, but we have to be confident because this is a big event for our country."
The games, expected to involve more than 9,000 athletes from 45 nations as well as 8,000 media and officials, will be split among several cities.
The main stadium is in the heart of the notoriously traffic-clogged capital Jakarta and the east of the city is home for a new velodrome and equestrian center. Palembang on the island of Sumatra, which staged the 2011 Southeast Asian Games, is the other main sports venue. Some sports, including football, will take place in West Java cities such as Bandung, Bekasi and Bogor.
The main stadium, which was used when Indonesia first hosted the Asian Games in 1962, is buzzing with construction workers. Among the renovations, its old wooden benches have been removed and replaced with modern seating in red and white — the colors of the Indonesian flag — to seat about 80,000.
The construction of the athletes' village is almost finished and many major venues are more than 80 percent complete, and projected to be done by October.
But the velodrome and equestrian center, which are being totally rebuilt, aren't expected to be completed until May of next year, leaving a tight window for rectifying any problems. Officials say five or six international-standard football stadiums are needed in West Java, but only two are up to scratch so far.
"We need to really be pushing hard" said Thohir, who met earlier this week with the provincial and central governments to accelerate the work.
National pride is at stake.
"We've been waiting for this opportunity for decades," said bank employee Trivandi Pohan as he ate lunch at a Jakarta mall. "This is an opportunity for us to show the world that we are a great nation."
Indonesia is the world's third-largest democracy and a member of the Group of 20 major industrialized and developing economies, but tends to perform below its weight in global affairs.
Successive governments have been mostly consumed by responding to frequent natural disasters, terrorism, communal conflicts and other crises in a country where corruption and poverty are still widespread.
"The government would like to make a positive point for the public that Indonesia as a big country should do better, like any other big country," said organizing committee vice-president Gatot S. Dewa Broto, who is also a senior official at the youth and sports ministry.
There are also hopes that staging the games will boost Indonesia's sporting prowess. The country of more than 260 million people won four gold medals at the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea, placing 17th on the medal standings, and is aiming for a top-10 performance next year.
The government is spending about 25 trillion rupiah ($1.8 billion) on games infrastructure. Organization and running of the games is expected to cost about 4.5 trillion rupiah ($330 million) with only a portion provided by the government and the majority to be funded by sponsorships and ticket sales.
With elections due in 2019 a successful games would score political points for Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, the first Indonesian president from outside the ranks of the elite or military.
Jokowi has made improvement to Indonesia's creaky or non-existent infrastructure his top priority since being elected in 2014.
A new international terminal at Jakarta's main airport opened earlier this year and a traffic flyover near the main stadium was recently completed. However, subway and light-rail projects in the capital, where traveling five kilometers in peak hour can take two hours or more, are unlikely to be completed until 2019.
Thohir emits a rueful laugh when asked how athletes will cope with Jakarta's daily "carmageddon" as they travel the 20 kilometer-plus (12-mile) distance between the village and the main venues — a journey officials say should not take more than 45 minutes.
A police general has been seconded to the organizing committee and special lanes, athlete convoys and use of the city's bus-only lanes are being discussed to reduce the slow travel times.
"I'm not an expert but I trust him," Thohir said of the general. "He will find a solution."
AP Writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia contributed.