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URBAN CHAT: National pride and international games

Lynda Ibrahim

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, November 29, 2019  /  01:19 pm
URBAN CHAT: National pride and international games

Indonesian flag. (Shutterstock.com/Millenius)

Don't worry. The "national pride" part isn't about artist Agnes Monica's latest gaffe.

The way I see it, she either needs to get some PR wisdom from the likes of Anggun Cipta Sasmi, Rich Brian and Joe Taslim, or hire a good publicist to coach her on how to speak to the media. 

The national pride I'm talking about here takes place not at the country-Agnes-Monica-was-just-born-in but to its northeast: the Philippines, where the 2019 Southeast Asia (SEA) Games are being held.

This week has been filled with gloomy reports about how unprepared the host is with just days leading up to the opening.

Unfinished venues, including a makeshift press conference room, transportation and accommodation chaos, athlete menu mix-ups and even typos in the initials and flags of countries on the match signboard.

Filipino politicians got into a public blame game and Filipino people expressed embarrassment on social media, while foreign delegations scrambled to make do.

I'm not here to throw barbs around.

I actually feel sorry because organizing an international event is not at all a small undertaking. From the long preparation to the small window of execution, when if you fail the world will witness it from the front seats. 

Surely the other argument is: If you don't think you can perform, why bother bidding to host? Here we must circle back to the whole national pride thing.

When all whom you identify as peers have taken their turns, you will feel the utmost pressure to take yours against all odds. Also, do not forget the financial windfall for the private sector, which benefits from the "free" promotion of the country.

Hosting a sporting event has nothing to do with how good your athletes are – it has everything to do with how good your event organizing skills are.

Funding and constructing facilities in a timely manner is a packaged challenge requiring a whole different organizational prowess than managing thousands of participants and media crews during the actual event. Not only do you need different bands of professionals, you need a master conductor to synergize them into a working orchestra. 

What the Philippines is struggling with now were my exact fears around the Asian Games last year.

Most Indonesians were easily distracted by the boisterous opening ceremony, but as someone who went every single day to AG 2018 without holding a media or all-match pass, I bore witness to the struggle of a regular spectator to purchase tickets and official merchandise.

In the venues outside the main venue of the Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) sports complex, refreshments were limited and facilities lacked a certain level of comfort.

Challenges were harder for foreign spectators as many ticketing and venue staff members didn't speak good enough English, while translators were holed up somewhere else.

Even as we lined up in GBK to watch the opening ceremony, my dad, having attended major sporting events overseas, including the World Cup, chuckled that the crowd management was nowhere near the international standard he'd experienced.

We were very lucky that AG 2018 had enough sense to prioritize athletes and officials. Otherwise we would have faced a similar uproar as the one now erupting in the Philippines.

This is why I'm not at all on board of the merry wagon bidding for Indonesia to host the 2034 World Cup.

That's only 14 years away.

Sure, the newly-renovated GBK is our vintage stadium, a source of pride, but you need a whole lot more stadiums, road accesses and other support systems that are up to international standards, in less than three presidential terms.

To all of you who often travel around Indonesia have probably stumbled into many examples of public infrastructure that haven't seen upgrades for five presidential terms.

That's the hardware. What about the software like ticketing, or the human resources to manage foreign spectators and media? The soft-spoken Asian tourists or expats frustrated over AG 2018 ticket management hold no candle to a band of irascible soccer fanatics, often booze-fueled, ready to tear apart anything even when things go down smoothly.

Also, for the love of God, how ready are our own spectators?

To this day, most Indonesian soccer fans can't be trusted to queue, sit to watch, use toilets properly, respect other countries' national anthems, or contain themselves upon any losses or a glimpse of Malaysian supporters.

Can we change that sheer ignorance and arrogance in, again, less than three presidential terms? Or should we wait until our soccer fans, who often fancy themselves up with scary names like Bonek or Viking, get to clash with real Viking soccer fans and British hooligans thrice their size? 

If all of those factors mentioned above aren't enough to paint the real challenges, let me ask this: Why do you think Japan and South Korea, two countries much more developed than Indonesia, had to split a World Cup between the two of them?

Yes, I know Indonesia will host the World Cup U-21 next year.

Yes, as a dutiful citizen and proud countrywoman I'll pray things will go smoothly.

Yes, I also understand that hosting the World Cup U-21 next year serves as a tryout for the real World Cup.

Yet, no, looking at how Indonesia progressed in the past 14 years, I don't think we'll be ready to host the real World Cup within the next 14 years. 

Back to the SEA Games: Chin up, Pinoys and Pinays! In the name of the national pride of each of our countries, let the Games begin!

Lynda Ibrahim is a Jakarta-based writer with a penchant for purple, pussycats and pop culture.

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