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Jakarta Post

Paying tribute to our sporting 'Wonder Women'

  • Niken Prathivi
    Niken Prathivi

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, December 22, 2018   /   09:22 am
Paying tribute to our sporting 'Wonder Women' Indonesia Lindswell Kwok performs during the 2018 Asian Games women's wushu taijiquan-taijijian all-round match in JIExpo, Kemayoran, Central Jakarta. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

The year 2018 is nearing its end, and I want to take this opportunity to salute our sports heroines — those who defy all odds, including juggling national duty and domestic responsibilities, to conquer podiums for the nation’s pride. 

On Women’s Day on Dec. 22 let us look at these sisters who constantly battle traditional views, and often dual roles, which hold them back.

The sports world is struggling over equality between male and female athletes, including discrimination and disparities in salary and opportunities. Tennis giants like American Serena Williams and Briton Andy Murray are among the stars using their influence to give voice to such issues. 

Surprisingly, Indonesia’s sports have seen some progress in certain sectors; but it is still lagging behind in others. In individual sports like badminton, martial arts and cycling, our female athletes enjoy some fresh air, especially in opportunities, as reflected in their achievements in international events.

But in team sports such as soccer, basketball and volleyball we are still in the Middle Ages. 

Hosting the Asian Games in August and September as well as the Asian Para Games in October brought Indonesian sports to another level.

In the Games, Indonesia’s first three gold medals were won by female athletes. The first was taekwondoin Defina Rosmaniar, followed by Lindswell Kwok in wushu and Tiara A. Prastika in downhill mountain biking.

A video that showed the best performance of gold medalist Aries Susanti Rahayu in speed climbing went viral, making her famous as Indonesia’s “spiderwoman”. Aries is still competing at international levels, winning a gold in the Climbing World Cup in China last month as her latest milestone. Aries and other national climbers are striving to reach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Pencak silat contributed the most of Indonesia’s total of 31 gold medals in the Games. The Indonesian pencak silat team won 11 golds; six of them were grabbed by female athletes. It was Puspa Arumsari who opened the door for the host country to secure golds, and Wewey Wita perfectly ended the journey.

However, team sports need sustained domestic leagues in order to form solid national teams for international competitions. In Indonesia, choosing to play in a team sport as a woman is a real struggle as we barely have consistent leagues. 

Indonesia had a short-lived Women’s National Basketball League that only survived for two seasons between 2011 and 2013. 

After years of not organizing the league, the country brought it back to life just last year, renamed the Srikandi Cup, in preparation for the Asian Games. The Srikandi Cup women’s basketball league is having its second season after the hiatus, while the male Indonesian Basketball League has enjoyed a non-disrupted run since 2003.

In the Games, the Indonesian women’s team finished seventh, while the men’s team came eighth. 

Off the court, the athlete and activist Raisa Aribatul Hamidah participated in a world movement, started in 2014, to push the International World Basketball (FIBA) to change its regulation that banned the hijab. Raisa, who used to play with Surabaya Fever club, joined the campaign after being rejected by the national team for wearing the hijab, despite her standout talent as a point guard.

In 2017, the FIBA began allowing players to wear the hijab with certain stipulations regarding safety. As with all popular sports in Indonesia, indoor volleyball seems to get overshadowed by badminton, especially in attracting sponsors, hype and buzz. 

About a decade ago, a national volleyball league was among primetime shows on national TV. A few years back, struggling organizers decided to skip Jakarta and its magical social media buzz because of pricey venues. 

The league, however, lives on thanks to die-hard volleyball fans, and was set to start its 18th edition on Dec. 7 in Yogyakarta. 

Despite a slight slump in the hype, the paychecks for most female players in the league are higher — sometimes twice as high — than their male counterparts. Officials and players have said the good wages have successfully lured women to play the sport as most would stop after having children. 

The female volleyball players have a special place in their fans’ hearts. Some may think this is because of men’s physical attraction to them — but today many players are wearing hijab.

A women’s soccer league is still a pipedream in this country. In the Games, Indonesia failed to reach the knockout round in the women’s tournament, a result of poor development through not having a league. The Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) has claimed it will run a women’s league next year, but expectations are low, considering the association’s reputation. 

The Union of European Football Associations has committed to increasing its funding for women’s soccer development projects across Europe by 50 percent, or up to 150,000 euros (Rp 2.5 billion) per year, from 2020. Australian rugby now has equal salaries for both male and female athletes in rugby sevens, a variant of rugby, starting at A$44,500 (Rp 458 million).

Indonesia, backed by its powerful 260 million people, has enough potential to make a difference.

Sisterhood is enriching, where everyone supports each other and is genuinely happy when one reaches the top. It is our duty to help the voices of Indonesian sportswomen as aspiring women athletes to be heard. Campaigning on their behalf is the cheapest investment. 

Hopefully women in this country will have a better future in sports, as many have already proven their golden footsteps.