Most things are easier said than done. This is also the case in sports management and development in Indonesia, a sleeping giant in regional sports that failed to wake for the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in the Philippines, which concluded on Wednesday.
Major powers like China, the United States, Russia and Japan have long viewed sport as something more important than simply exercise. They smell the power and money that come with sporting glory.
Indonesia, a land of more than 250 million people, fails to grasp this, as was evident in the country’s performance at the SEA Games. The country finished fourth on the medal table, with 72 golds, 84 silvers and 111 bronzes, behind the host nation, Vietnam and Thailand.
On the bright side, Indonesia did nearly double its 2017 tally of 38 golds, its worst-ever performance at the Games. But it was not enough to beat archrival Thailand and up-and-comer Vietnam. Once again Indonesia was an underachiever.
The SEA Games may have originally been intended to “help promote cooperation, understanding and relations among countries in the region,” as the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) puts it. In terms of sports development, however, the SEA Games are a stepping stone for the region’s athletes to aspire to compete and win at the Olympics.
For that reason the SEA Games feature a minimum of 14 Olympic sports, in addition to athletics and aquatics, including archery, badminton and weightlifting.
At the most recent SEA Games, Indonesia failed yet again to match its major neighbors in these sports. Over the past 20 years Indonesian sport has stagnated, if not declined.
Indonesia carved out a piece of history at last year’s Asian Games, finishing fourth on the medal table as the host nation thanks to the inclusion of its traditional martial art pencak silat, which most sporting powerhouses do not excel in.
Proclaiming the 2018 Asian Games a success, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has proposed Indonesia place a bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympic Games and the 2034 FIFA World Cup. These will be ambitious and expensive undertakings, when the money could perhaps be better spent investing in sports development programs.
Indonesian athletes have all the basic ingredients, but to win medals they need to train and compete at international events regularly. This is the only way they can measure their abilities against world-class opponents.
A proper budget needs to be provided to support the nation’s athletes. They need high-quality training camps, overseas tryouts and regular stints competing at the international level. We have heard enough about athletes getting short changed, with their preparations undermined by limited funding and promises of overseas training programs broken. What standard should Indonesia aim for? We can learn from Thailand, or even Vietnam, which have made steady progress in sports development, as was evident in their performances at the SEA Games.
Good intentions without real action are meaningless. We owe our athletes for their hard work and dedication. It’s time to get serious.