Jakarta, Palembang gear up for 2018 Asian Games as one-year countdown begins

Jakarta: On a dusty construction site in central Jakarta, amid sacks of cement and bulldozers, hundreds of high-vis clad workers toil away to bring Indonesia's Asian Games dream to life.

Exactly one year out from the opening ceremony of the world's largest multi-sport event after the Olympics, the city's Gelora Bung Karno sports complex, which was built more than half a century ago, is undergoing a drastic renovation.

Jakarta and Palembang, on the island of Sumatra, will host around 10,000 athletes from 45 countries competing in 39 sports from 18 August to 2 September, 2018.

Jakarta and Palembang will host 18th Asian Games in 2018. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@AsianGamesXVIII

Jakarta and Palembang will host 18th Asian Games in 2018. Image Courtesy: Twitter/@AsianGamesXVIII

As the Asiad's top venue — hosting football, basketball, tennis, volleyball, and archery — the 55-year-old Gelora Bung Karno will be under intense scrutiny.

But despite the fast-approaching deadline, the man responsible for upgrading the complex's main stadium, Wikrama Wardana, recently told AFP there was still plenty of time to complete the job.

"We are going to do our best to finish it within the timeframe. Once the contract has ended, there will be enough time to prepare for the Asian Games more thoroughly," Wardana said at the arena.

Indonesia has faced a race against time to be ready for the 18th Asian Games after original hosts Vietnam withdrew in 2014 due to financial problems, meaning the country has only had four years to prepare instead of the usual six.

It last hosted the Asian Games in 1962 in Jakarta, and for many Indonesians the Games will be the perfect chance to showcase the country's sporting prowess, as well as its status as one of the world's emerging economies.

But when the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) visited Indonesia in March, it warned the country it faced huge challenges, raising concerns about a lack of coordination between bodies carrying out different tasks, such as those building venues, and organising the lighting and sound systems.

Observers from OCA have also raised questions about the suitability of the athletes' village and transport to and from venues in a city notorious for major traffic congestion.

'We saved the Games'

In another setback, Jakarta's landmark Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train system won't be ready until 2019, meaning fans will have to navigate the traffic-choked streets by taxi, motorbike or clapped-out bus.

However, Indonesia's Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi has hit back at the criticism, saying the country should be praised for hosting the Games at such short notice.

"Actually they have to thank Indonesia because Indonesia saved this Asian Games," he told AFP, adding the pace of development was clearly visible.

But beyond the clatter of machinery at Jakarta's top sporting complex, there are few clues the city is about to host its first Asian Games in 50 years.

Marketing for the event is conspicuously absent and, despite a budget of about four trillion rupiah ($300 million), awareness seems to be limited, if not non-existent, among residents.

"I didn't know Indonesia will host it. I rarely watch the news and read newspapers," Linggar Rysandika, 25, told AFP while waiting for a bus next to the unfinished softball venue.

Preparation for the event is more advanced in Palembang, which held the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2011.

Much of the infrastructure needed to cater for the flood of athletes and visitors is already in place, but organisers will be keen to avoid repeating the controversies of that event.

The 2011 SEA Games were tarnished by a major corruption scandal, transport delays, incomplete infrastructure and a deadly stampede at the football final.

Village problems

Palembang successfully hosted the Asian Triathlon Championship earlier this year, and is busy building a light railway from the city's airport to the main Jakabaring Sport City.

But back in Jakarta, observers have flagged up several potential pitfalls.

When representatives from the OCA's medical services committee and anti-doping commission visited earlier this month, they raised issues about the apartment complex which is due to house athletes.

The master plan for the eight-block complex, which is still under construction, shows athletes will have lengthy walks through Jakarta's hot and often-polluted air just to reach their transportation stops.

Dr Jegathesan Manikavasagam, chairman of the medical services committee, said athletes will be expending energy before they even get to their events.

"This will be a big problem, you will get many complaints," Manikavasagam said.

Despite all the question marks, when Indonesia's President Joko Widodo officially launches the year-to-go countdown on Friday evening it will be a moment of immense pride for the nation of more than 250 million people.

Gatot Dewa Broto, vice-president of the Indonesian Asian Games Organisation Committee (INASGOC), insisted things were on track, but admitted there was some way to go.

"We still need to seal deals with sponsors and then later determine things like ticket prices, but I don't think there are problems with the venues," he said.

"We are working non-stop, this is just a matter of time, it's very short."

Updated Date: Aug 18, 2017 17:33 PM

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