Editorial: Playing From Behind On the Sporting Field
Indonesia’s economic and political rise over the past few years has been impressive. The country now belongs to the Group of 20, the most influential global economic grouping, and is widely seen as a heavyweight when it comes to regional geopolitical discussions.
Unfortunately, the nation lags far behind in another arena where high achievement is a steppingstone to exerting power and influence — sports. In this field, the country has, especially in recent years, done poorly despite its large population. With 237 million people, it is certainly astonishing that Indonesia does not have more high-caliber athletes .
At the last Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, for example, the country managed just two gold medals — a meager haul compared to China’s massive tally of 165. Officials have expressed hope that Indonesia will do better this time around in Guangzhou, China, with the 16th Asian Games starting on Nov. 12.
Nearly 12,000 athletes from 45 countries will compete for the 476 gold medals on offer at the showpiece regional event. Of the 22 events that Indonesia will be competing in, officials hope to win gold in at least seven. Some 140 Indonesian athletes will be sent to the Games.
Although it boasts the fourth-largest population in the world, Indonesia ranked only 22nd overall in Doha after sending 131 athletes to compete in 20 sports. Aside from gold medals in the men’s singles badminton and ten-pin bowling, the nation also collected four silver and 14 bronze medals.
If we hope to do better, the country must seriously invest in the future. But seriousness is not all it takes to spawn a generation of sporting champions. We also need adequate infrastructure and facilities to train them.
Sadly, we are far behind other nations such as China, Malaysia and Thailand in terms of building the necessary infrastructure that leads to success on the sporting stage. This includes identifying talent from an early stage, grooming them through a well-designed training program, having competitive local tournaments and finally exposing athletes to international events.
China spends hundreds of millions of dollars on grooming and training its athletes. Indonesia may not have the same resources, but the Indonesian National Sports Committee (KONI) can and should do more to promote competitive sports here.
There is also a need to build international-standard sporting facilities. Apart from the modern badminton training center in Kudus, there is scant infrastructure to train athletes. Yes, the country has a number of football stadiums, but these are often poorly equipped and lack modern training facilities.
We also need world-class coaches to help mold young athletes into champions. Again, local coaches do not have the experience or training to develop world-beaters.
Achievement in sports is important not just for national pride, it can elevate the country’s image and allow it to exert soft power in shaping global affairs.