‘Bigger than sport’: Indonesia’s Asian Games to leave legacy of public space
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‘Bigger than sport’: Indonesia’s Asian Games to leave legacy of public space

AS Indonesia gears up to hold the Asian Games next month for the first time since 1962, its organisers say the event will leave a legacy of green space, improved infrastructure and greater skills and work experience for thousands of the nation’s young people.

According to the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), the country of 260 million has invested 34 trillion rupiah (US$2.3 billion) in building infrastructure related to the Games including extending sports venues, public transport, bridges and roads in the two host cities of Jakarta and Palembang.

The Asian Games will see 40 events and 67 disciplines, for which 4066 medals will be presented. Jakarta-Palembang is the first time that eSports will be a part of the Games, as an exhibition event prior to becoming a full competition sport in 2022.

SEE ALSO: How Indonesia is gearing up for the 2018 Asian Games

Some 94 venues will accommodate practice and competition for an estimated 17,000 athletes and officials who will be in attendance. A further 100,000 spectators are expected to attend.

With the official slogan being “energy of Asia”, Bappenas has projected that hosting the Games will produce economic benefits worth Rp45.1 trillion (US$3.1 billion) for the Indonesian economy, which is already Southeast Asia’s largest.

But the Indonesia Asian Games Organising Committee (INASGOC) says it is not just a short-term economic boost that will stem from hosting the event, but a longer-lasting legacy of significant investment of public space and human capital.

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Chief of the Indonesian Asian Games Organizing Committee Erick Thohir. Source: Supplied

Getting out of the mall

In an interview with Asian Correspondent last month, Indonesian media tycoon and INASGOC chairman Erick Thohir said “I am happy, with many of the venues we are creating a public space, a lot of parks. If you look at Gelora Bung Karno people can walk, people can come in free.”

Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) sports complex in south-central Jakarta, originally built for the 1962 Asian Games and named for Indonesia’s founding father President Sukarno, will be the centerpiece of the 2018 Games.

In the leadup to the event – which will run from 18 Aug to 2 Sept – the renovation and beautification of GBK has also seen it become a popular place for locals to go for a jog, ride bikes or have a picnic. Newly-built walkways and gardens make it an attractive place for families in a city sorely lacking in outdoor spaces that are free-of-charge.

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This picture taken on July 11, 2018 shows people jogging outside Gelora Bung Karno stadium where opening and closing ceremonies for the 2018 Asian Games will take place in Jakarta. Source: Adek Berry/ AFP

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According to the World Bank, Indonesia’s urban population density is almost 10,000 people per square kilometre – a figure closer to 15,000 in the capital. Less than 10 percent of the polluted megacity is green space – far below a goal of 30 percent stipulated by the city government’s Spatial Planning Law.

“Many of the venues in Jakarta like the velodromes or equestrians are public spaces – which in Jakarta and many cities in Indonesia we need,” said Thohir. “We really need these public spaces, not only building malls or other commercial things. I think this helps the country and the people.”

A growing middle class has driven demand for malls – more than 200 in Jakarta alone. While “mall culture” is prevalent in the increasingly affluent urban centres of Southeast Asia, in the region’s most populous city it is king.

Australian political commentator Waleed Ali in 2013 described them as “cities within cities where the poor are invisible”. Filmmaker Daniel Ziv has sarcastically observed: “Less fortunate cities make do with parks, beaches, playgrounds, outdoor promenades or even stuffy cultural centers as the places where their residents meet and interact. Jakartan people are far luckier. They have the mall.”

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A worker cleans near a sign for the upcoming 2018 Asian Games. Source: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

“So I am also proud that they have created a lot of public space,” added Thohir. “I think this is the difference between 1962 and 2018 – in 1962 it was really about the sport, but 2018 is bigger in a way. It’s created for the [Indonesian] public.”

While the Asian Games mightn’t have precipitated a huge shift in urban development planning, it has indeed driven administrators to collaborate on more environmentally friendly initiatives that will reduce congestion.

In Palembang, South Sumatra, the government has built a new Light Rail Transit (LRT) network to connect the airport, city and Games venues.  While Jakarta’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train was promised to have been completed for the event, it is behind schedule and won’t be operational until at least 2019.

Nevertheless, INASGOC has organised with the Jakarta government to provide free public transport for all associated with the Games, and to encourage those attending the opening ceremony not to drive.

Indonesia’s future

The Asian Games torch relay kicked off earlier this month in New Delhi, and is now weaving its way through Indonesia past marketable tourist destinations including the 9th Century Hindu temple Prambanan in Central Java, the imposing volcano Mount Bromo in East Java, and of course Bali and Papua’s diving mecca Raja Ampat.

The Indonesian government has aspirations of creating “10 new Balis” – in other words successful international tourist destinations – including Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Central Java’s Borobudur, and the Thousand Islands in Jakarta.

Thohir, the first foreign owner and chairman of Italian football powerhouse Inter Milan with large assets in local media, said that he hopes investing in Indonesia’s “national character”, human capital and international image is another legacy of the Games.

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Indonesian badminton legend Susi Susanti (R) holds a flame from India as former tennis player Yustedjo Tarik (L) holds a flame from the Mrapen eternal flame before uniting them in a cauldron during the 2018 Asian Games Torch Relay ceremony at Prambanan Temple complex, Sleman, Yogyakarta, July 18, 2018. Source: Antara Foto/Ismar Patrizki/ via Reuters

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“If you look at what happened in 1962, we were only independent for 17 years. What our president did at that time was something that people never imagined, it was a young country,” he told Asian Correspondent, noting Sukarno’s construction of Jakarta’s television stations, its first freeways, and the iconic Hotel Indonesia.

“This is why in 2018 the government is very serious to build a similar kind of legacy. At the same time, we as the Organising Committee want to have our own legacy. As you know, when you’re talking about a major event, it’s not just about the event itself, but it’s national branding.”

“On the other side it’s economic impact: job creation, national character building, we need to be disciplined and work together.”

The huge archipelagic nation has a young population – the median age being just 28. Unicef says that young people aged 10 to 24 years number about 65 million people – constituting about a third of the population.

According to the International Monetary Fund, “Indonesia needs to take advantage of its young and growing workforce and step up reforms to boost growth and create more quality jobs.”

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Indonesian actor Hamish Daud (2nd L) carries the torch for the Asian Games during the torch relay at Kuta beach area in Denpasar on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali on July 23, 2018. Jakarta and Palembang in Sumatra will host about 11,000 athletes and 5,000 officials from 45 Asian countries for the Asian Games, which will be held from August 18 to September 2. Source: Sonny Tumbelaka / AFP

Thohir argues that the Games have contributed towards this goal. INASGOC itself has employed 15,000 people, and a further 15,000 volunteers have been given training and employment opportunities by the event.

The opening and closing ceremonies will see a further 20,000 people employed as entertainers, performers and broadcasters, he said. INASGOC has also trained more than 560 students in broadcasting skills.

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Asked whether Indonesia would achieve the success it did in 1962 – where it won the second largest number of medals – Thohir said it was “a different era. At that time there was no China, no Middle East.”

For a country of its size, Indonesia underperforms in terms of sport on a global stage. While football mad, its national men’s team is ranked 164 in the world. In Incheon, the Indonesian team won 4 gold medals.

According to Thohir, the goal for 2018 is to win 16 and to rank in the top 10 nations. “Of course in the future because our economy is growing, because of our population, Indonesia should target the top six,” he said.

“I think it’s also important that the government supports this as well.”