INCHEON, South Korea (REUTERS) - Indonesia is poised to be selected as the host of the next Asian Games in 2018 after Vietnam withdrew because of financial concerns, the president of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) told Reuters on Wednesday.
The decision will be formally ratified at an OCA General Assembly in South Korea on Saturday but OCA president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah told Reuters that there was an agreement in place to give the multi-sports event to Jakarta.
Sheikh Ahmad acknowledged that Hanoi's pullout had posed problems the OCA had never faced before, but they had not been left in the lurch for long.
"In less than one month, Indonesia was there ready to host it," he told Reuters. "We have solved the issues with other cities, we have a good agreement - lets leave it to Indonesia. Because it was the competitor to Vietnam at the last vote," he added. "So Indonesia has to have the priority to host."
Sheikh Ahmad also said that the 18th Asiad, which was originally scheduled to take place in 2019, would be brought forward by a year because the Indonesian presidential election was taking place in 2019.
The date change still had to be approved by the general assembly but he expected the following edition would be held in 2023 then every four years to avoid clashing with the Winter Olympics and soccer World Cup.
"It was decided the Asian Games would move from 2014 and 2018, to 2014 and 2019 because it would be good preparation for the Olympics," he said. "But because Indonesia will have a presidential election in 2019 the requirement was to host it in 2018, which we don't mind... but we have to give it to the general assembly to approve."
Jakarta has only ever hosted the Games once before, in 1962. The decision to award the Games to Indonesia was widely expected after India decided not to step in to replace Hanoi and other countries balked at the finances involved.
Hanoi was awarded the Games in November 2012 ahead of the Indonesian city of Surabaya but Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung pulled the plug, saying Vietnam was suffering from the effects of global recession and the state was unable to foot the bill for facilities and venues.
Economists estimated the cost of Vietnam hosting the Games varied from US$150 million (S$190 million) to as high as US$500 million and although Vietnam's US$155 billion economy is in recovery, it faces many deep-rooted problems, including weak infrastructure, one of Asia's highest levels of bad debt and a state sector mired in graft and inefficiency.
When the bidding process was reopened, Indonesia immediately re-entered the race while India toyed with the idea before changing its mind.
Sheikh Ahmad said there would be changes to the way the OCA scrutinised future bids for the Asian Games, which is second only to the Summer Olympics in terms of size.
"What we faced with Hanoi, it was a new experience... and we have to prepare our mechanisms so that we don't have this problem back," he added.