Indonesian politics could do with more sportsmanship: Jakarta Post columnist

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (centre) reacts during the men's team finals badminton match between China and Indonesia at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug 22, 2018.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (centre) reacts during the men's team finals badminton match between China and Indonesia at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug 22, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In his commentary, the writer says character matters more than who wins or loses.

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - As long as we are still in a jovial mood following our huge success in hosting the Asian Games, how about instilling a little bit of sportsmanship, something that was widely displayed by athletes throughout the sports fiesta, in our politics and our politicians?

Boy, don't we need it badly. As we are now gearing up for the general elections in April 2019, there are strong indications that we will have another brutal, ugly and highly divisive competition.

We still remember how bad it was back in 2014, and how it had gotten even worse in the Jakarta gubernatorial election in 2017.

With this trajectory, 2019 will be too horrible to imagine.

We had welcomed social media as a positive force to encourage public participation in having their say. But the various platforms have now been turned literally into bully pulpits to attack others where absolutely anything goes, from hoaxes and fake news, to the most heinous types of hate and violent speech.

Although the national elections in 2014 and the local elections in the intervening years have passed relatively peacefully, they all bordered on full-scale violence.

No one, not even the police or the military, can guarantee 100 per cent that it will be peaceful next year.

One way of avoiding the possibility of electoral violence is to inculcate the values that comes with taking part in sports competitions for our politicians and their die-hard supporters.

Let's ask Erick Thohir, who has done a tremendous job in putting together the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, South Sumatra, to do a little bit more work in organising a national games for politicians, on a much smaller scale but still very important for the country's peace, stability and democracy.

Pak Erick should organise a badminton competition between the two presidential candidates, the incumbent Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and challenger Prabowo Subianto.

Badminton, still one of the nation's most popular past times, seems the obvious choice.

Pencak silat or horse riding would give Prabowo too much of an advantage.

Besides, we should avoid anything too physical.

We don't want our candidates black and blue going into the real race next year.

We can even have a doubles match in badminton, each pairing with their running mates Ma'ruf Amin and Sandiaga Uno. That seems a fair match if we combine their ages.

It was good to see Jokowi and Prabowo embrace one another at a pencak silat event in the Games last week.

The video and photo that went viral sent a powerful message to the public that in spite of their intense rivalry in politics, the two men can be on friendly terms.

But that is hardly enough.

We need to see them actually putting sportsmanship into practice.

Erick can also organise soccer matches pitting the supporters of the two candidates.

Why not throw in basketball, volleyball and other competitive sports (but none of the martial arts please).

After all, we have all these new sporting facilities.

Seems like a waste not to use them.

Jokowi, Prabowo and their supporters will learn firsthand what any athlete or medalist who took part in the Games will tell you about competition: While winning is important, for the individual athletes, it is not the most important thing.

Instead, it is to develop character.

There are so many positive character traits at work we can see in sports competitions.

Yes, a sense of competitiveness is one of them, and hence it is still about winning. But there are ways and ethics of winning and losing a competition.

This is where sportsmanship comes in.

We tend to focus too much on the winners.

We hail them as heroes and shower them with prizes.

They deserve them so, as they must have put hours and hours of training, honing their skills, tactics and strategies, and imposing strict discipline on themselves.

Our obsession with winners, however, often blinds us from other important character traits that are visible on the field.

They include a sense of fair play, playing by and respecting the rules of the game, abiding by decisions of referees, observing ethics on and off the field, perseverance, humility, solidarity and respect for the opponent.

There are ethics of winning and losing in sports, where the winner would not gloat (though their supporters often would), and the loser accepting the result gallantly by congratulating the winner.

Similarly, the sports competition between Jokowi and Prabowo, and between their supporters, if Erick can pull it off, would not be so much about who wins or who loses.

But it is more about inculcating more sportsmanship in them and in our politics.

If they cannot show fair play and be good sportsmen, they are not ready for the April 17 race.

And the nation may be doomed.

The writer is a senior editor with the paper. The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media organisations.