Hosts ready to forget woes and focus on medals

The opening ceremony of the 18th Asian Games at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug 18, 2018.
The opening ceremony of the 18th Asian Games at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Aug 18, 2018.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

JAKARTA • A day after Indonesia's footballers delivered their Independence Day gift in the form of a 3-0 group-stage win over Laos, it welcomed its continental counterparts with a grand and colourful Asian Games opening ceremony last night.

It has been a trying year for the hosts with floods, earthquakes, bombings and political upheaval but the Games offer a much-needed distraction as well as a chance for the biggest Muslim-majority nation to impress the world.

The last time the quadrennial Asiad took place in Jakarta was in 1962, around the same time most of the Russian-built sports venues were built. To cope with the 18,000 athletes and officials here, many were demolished or extensively refurbished.

The Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium in central Jakarta, the main venue of the Games, has itself undergone a Rp 779.9 billion (S$73.4 million) renovation.

The build-up to the fortnight-long Games has not been without controversy, with an Amnesty International report claiming that dozens of petty criminals were killed by Indonesian police as part of a crime clean-up.

Despite these problem as well as delays and budget cutbacks, the Asiad has begun without major interruptions. Indonesia's contingent of 900 athletes are hoping to capitalise on home advantage and break into the top 10 of the medal table for the first time since 1990.

This is Indonesian swimmer Azzahra Permatahani's Games debut and she hopes visitors will leave with a good impression.

The 16-year-old national record holder of the 200 and 400 metres individual medley told The Sunday Times: "I feel happy that the Asian Games are held in my country, and I don't feel too nervous. I must swim fast and give my best for my country.

"I hope we show (the other countries) that Indonesia is nice."

Singapore have sent their largest contingent of 264 athletes to Jakarta and Palembang.

Fencer Amita Berthier, who won gold at last year's Kuala Lumpur SEA Games and was involved in last night's ceremony, said: "The atmosphere in the arena was priceless - it felt great to walk in and I'm extremely proud and honoured to represent my country."

Nicole Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 19, 2018, with the headline 'Hosts ready to forget woes and focus on medals'. Print Edition | Subscribe