Oei Eng Goan
Sports and games are played for individual prestige and national pride.
Tonight President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is scheduled to officially open the 18th National Games (PON) in Pekanbaru, Riau, which has attracted public criticism for its unprofessional preparation and a graft scandal in the construction of its stadium that involves officials of the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry.
To most Indonesians, PON is important for building friendships among the nation’s many ethnicities, fostering a spirit of togetherness, nurturing the athletes’ qualities and competitive instincts as well as encouraging them to compete fairly, regardless whether they win or lose.
When the PON was first held, at Sriwedari Stadium, in Solo in September 1948, its main goal was to open the eyes of the international community to the existence of Indonesia as a nation able to hold its own sports extravaganza. And it was a success story.
Sixty-four years later, PON is again being held, this time in grand style, having consumed around Rp 2.6 trillion ($271 million). The main stadium alone, built on an 80-hectare plot with an imposing architectural design and with more than 40,000 seats, cost around Rp 900 billion.
The saying “All that glitters is not gold” could not be more accurate, as the construction work on several venues for the event attests. A canopy over the main entrance to the indoor tennis courts collapsed last Thursday after it was hit by strong winds and heavy rains, injuring three people and damaging a car parked underneath.
Only days before the opening ceremony, construction workers were still trying to finish some venues, while trying to make others usable.
Water polo players complained about having to practice in dirty water. The roof of the billiard arena and other venues leaked.
Meanwhile, many rooms in the athlete’s village were not equipped with electricity or running water, forcing participants to stay at hotels or makeshift boarding houses provided by the locals. All these inadequacies were due to the unprofessional performance of the PON steering committee. But the most disgraceful thing surrounding PON is the corruption scandal in the construction of the venues.
Graft scandals also cast a dark shadow on last year’s Southeast Asian Games and the construction of the athletes village in Palembang, South Sumatra, and a huge sports center in Hambalang.
Public skepticism about sports in Indonesia is justified, prompting people to ask: Why has the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs done so little to improve the quality and performance of our athletes, causing Indonesia’s overall ranking to plummet, as seen in the recent London Games?
Instead of planning and building costly sports venues that turn out to be useless, while attracting a line of corrupt politicians and business owners, why doesn’t the ministry use its energy to seek out and find young and talented athletes who can one day represent Indonesia on the international stage?
Why doesn’t the ministry work toward settling the internal disputes that exist within several sports organizations? It’s problems like these that can have a psychological effect on an athlete and break his or her fighting spirit.
Look at football. Why is it proving so difficult for Indonesia, which has a population of around 240 million, to form two teams, comprising a few dozen players combined, to become successful in international competitions and boost the country’s image?
Besides honor, sports enhances physical health and helps instill moral insight and good attitudes in human beings. It enables them to be more active and secure in society, because they have sound minds, sound attitudes and sound bodies. As the ancient Roman poet Juvenal once said: “Mens sana in corpore sano” — “A sound mind in a healthy body.”
Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.
The Thinker column printed here last Tuesday, titled “A Lesson in Contrasts,” inadvertently was attributed to Oei Eng Goan. The actual author was Yohanes Sulaiman. The Jakarta Globe regrets the error.