Race Against Time

Construction work goes on at the rowing venue of the 2018 Asian Games, in Palembang, as seen on November 28.Construction work goes on at the rowing venue of the 2018 Asian Games, in Palembang, as seen on November 28.

Half-finished venues and an air of unpreparedness raise an uncomfortable question for Indonesia: will it be ready for next year’s Asian Games?

With less than nine months to go, earthmovers and cranes dot construction sites and plans for logistics remain hazy, pointing to a frantic build-up to the regional Olympics in August, AFP reported.

Turbulent preparations for major events are nothing new: the 2004 Athens Olympics stadium was only completed weeks before the opening ceremony, and Brazil’s 2014 World Cup went ahead in unfinished venues.

The doomsday scenario remains New Delhi’s 2010 Commonwealth Games, where problems ranged from filthy conditions at the athletes’ village to collapsing infrastructure.

Indonesia had its own problems with the 2011 Southeast Asian Games - which, like the Asian Games, were split between Jakarta and Palembang in South Sumatra - following corruption scandals and a deadly stampede at the football final.

But the Asian Games are on a different scale altogether: 9,500 athletes in 40 different sports, compared to 28 for the last Olympics, and held in two different cities for the first time in the event’s history.

With at least one venue, the Velodrome in Jakarta, not expected to be ready until June, chief organizer Erick Thohir admitted the schedule was “a bit tight” for the 30 trillion rupiah ($2.2 billion) Games.

But Thohir, the media tycoon who is president of Inter Milan and owns DC United, pledged that Indonesia will be ready to host its biggest sports event yet from August 18 to September 2.

“Actually we’re doing something that’s impossible but became possible,” he said this week during an official media visit and venue tour.

  An Ambitious Project

“We’re still in progress but we will make sure that the (work) is finishing up and we will make everything ready on time,” he added.

Hosting the Asian Games is an ambitious endeavor for any country, as underlined in 2014 when Vietnam pulled out as hosts of the upcoming tournament, citing concerns over preparations and the heavy financial burden.

Indonesia, facing five years to prepare rather than the usual seven, then opted to bring the Games forward from 2019 to 2018 to avoid a clash with national elections, losing another year.

A change of president in 2014 slowed efforts to push forward the project, as has repeated tinkering with the sporting schedule.

But for many Indonesians, holding the competition at all is already a triumph for a country which has weathered severe difficulties since independence in 1945 to become one of the world’s biggest emerging economies.

“Not only do we want to host something for the international audience, but also we want to build something for the people of Indonesia. I think that’s something that’s important for Indonesia,” said Thohir.

“We want to show Indonesia has really changed over the past 50 years … the image we want to show is the transformation of Indonesia.”

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