Asian Games: Indonesia 'ready for 2018 Asiad'

Erick Thohir (right), chairman of the Indonesia Asian Games Organising Committee, inspecting the progress of the construction of a new aquatic stadium in the Gelora Bung Karno Complex.
Erick Thohir (right), chairman of the Indonesia Asian Games Organising Committee, inspecting the progress of the construction of a new aquatic stadium in the Gelora Bung Karno Complex.PHOTO: INDONESIA ASIAN GAMES ORGANISING COMMITTEE

Organising chairman Thohir vows there will be no repeat of 2011 Games mess on his watch

The last major sporting meet that Indonesia hosted was the 2011 SEA Games, an event plagued by controversy. Some venues were not ready on time and two people died in a tragic stampede at the football final.

But next year's Asian Games, which will be staged mainly in Jakarta and Palembang again, will be a different episode, promised Erick Thohir, chairman of the Indonesia Asian Games Organising Committee (INASGOC).

He told The Straits Times that preparations for the quadrennial meet are on track and the government is pulling out all the stops to host the meet, which will cost around US$3 billion (S$4.5 billion).

Thohir, who is also president of the Indonesian Olympic Committee, said: "We are making good progress. Everything is in line with our target and we will be fully ready by the end of the year. We will also hold a test event at the start of next year.

"The Asian Games is a big deal for the country and the Indonesian government is committed to making it a success."

It will be the first time that a South-east Asian country is hosting the Asian Games since Bangkok in 1998 and Thohir, who is also president of Italian Serie A football club Inter Milan, said Indonesia is bent on putting on a show for visitors.

New infrastructure includes a sprawling 10-block athletes' village, another six towers for other Games personnel, venues for equestrian, shooting and cycling, as well as light rapid transit systems in Jakarta and Palembang.

RIGHT ON SCHEDULE

We will be fully ready by the end of the year. The Asian Games is a big deal... and the Indonesian government is committed to making it a success.

ERICK THOHIR , INASGOC chairman, insists Indonesia's 2018 Asian Games preparations are on track.

Last month, Indonesia Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, who is also chairman of the Asian Games Steering Committee, toured several sporting venues in London to study how the city hosted the Summer Olympics in 2012.

Considering Indonesia was not originally slated to stage the Asian Games, it would be a feat if it could pull off a problem-free Asiad, which typically sees athletes from over 40 countries competing for honours.

The 2014 Games in Incheon, South Korea, saw 14,500 athletes from 45 countries competing - more than the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, which featured 11,237 athletes from 207 nations.

Vietnam was the original host of the 2018 Asiad but pulled out in 2014 due to financial concerns.

To cut costs, Indonesia has dropped three sports - cricket, surfing and roller sports - from an initial list of 42.

Even then, Thohir admitted it would be difficult to recoup the cost of staging the meet in the short term, although he argued that benefits in the long run would make the investment worthwhile.

"It's good for Indonesia in terms of publicity and improving the infrastructure. We are replacing old sport venues and improving public transportation, building new parks - this is good for big cities like Jakarta and Palembang," said the businessman.

Security will also be of paramount concern at the Games, especially after the string of terror attacks that have rocked the globe.

A new department focusing solely on security has been created within INASGOC, although Thohir urged all participating countries to help support the fight against terror.

Japan, for instance, is providing grants totalling US$4.5 million to help install facial recognition software at the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium.

Thohir said: "The most important thing is to have the support of the other countries. For example, for people flying in to Indonesia, to have the country of origin helping us with background checks.

"To reduce the risk of attacks, the world needs to work together."

The Indonesia Games come after South-east Asia's best showing at the Rio Olympics. The region took home a record 18 medals - five golds, 10 silvers and three bronzes.

Thohir, who is founder and chairman of media, sports and entertainment company Mahaka Group, hopes Indonesia's hosting of the Asian Games will be a timely fillip for regional sport.

He said: "If you look at South-east Asia's performance at the Olympics, the number of medals is increasing.

"We certainly hope having the Asian Games here will help build up regional sport."

• This is the first of a two-part exclusive with Indonesian billionaire and Inter Milan president Erick Thohir. In the second part on Saturday, Thohir discusses his plans for Inter Milan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia 'ready for 2018 Asiad''. Print Edition | Subscribe