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President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono officially launched 18th National Games (PON 2012) at a sparsely attended ceremony in Pekanbaru on Tuesday.
Thousands of empty seats were visible at the 43,000-seat Riau Main Stadium as Yudhoyono spoke.
Clad in traditional Riau clothing, the President and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono arrived at the venue around 7:30 p.m.
The ceremony began with the singing of the national anthem and fireworks, followed by four performers who staged a traditional Riau welcome dance.
The festivities proceeded with the arrival of thousands of dancers who performed Malay-inspired dances.
“At this occasion, I would like to say welcome to the participants and to wish you a good Games,” Yudho-yono said in his speech.
The President urged participants to use the event to tighten ties of unity, saying he hoped the Games could inspire athletes to an international level of achievement.
He told those in attendance that the PON should be a field where athletes could realize their peak performance.
Yudhoyono spoke to a largely empty stadium, perhaps due to ticketing confusion. Officials said that they released only 6,000 or so tickets to the public for the opening ceremony.
However, according to the PON organizing committee, it had allocated 17,326 tickets for the ceremony, 1,612 of which were for VIP guests with the remainder reserved for public sales.
Meanwhile, the official in charge of ticket sales, Deni Kurnia, said that the committee had been asked to allocate only 28,000 of the stadium’s 43,000 seats, including about 15,000 seats for athletes and officials.
Attendance aside, the National Games, which will run until Sept. 20, feature 8,000 athletes from all 33 of the nation’s provinces who will compete in 39 events. Around 600 gold medals are up for grabs.
As athletes fight for the thrill of victory, the PON has been marred by, predictably, a bribery scandal as well as several snafus.
Several contingents of athletes have opted to stay in hotels, complaining that the official athletes’ village has poor facilities.
The East Java team, however, has come to Pekanbaru set on retaining the championship it won in the last games in East Kalimantan four years ago.
Team official Erlangga Satria Agung said that East Java had targeted winning at least 133 gold medals, including golds in archery, track and field, fin swimming, gymnastics, rowing, wushu and table tennis.
“Our target is five golds from each of those sports,” Erlangga told the Post. “As for badminton and tennis, we’re not the strongest ones.”
Although the games officially started on Tuesday, several events began as early as Sept. 9.
West Java currently leads the medal tally with 14 gold, 10 silver and 9 bronze medals, followed by East Java (10-9-10), Central Java (8-2-6), and Jakarta (6-12-8). Host province Riau had to be satisfied at the fifth place (5-5-6).
“We have predicted from the start that West Java would beat us in the medal tally, because the sports that they have mastered were held in the first week,” Erlangga said.
Erlangga remained confident on the team’s chances in the days to come. “We are the only province that has a four-year training camp for our athletes.”