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Jakarta Post

Athletes risk losing steam in back-to-back national, SEA Games

  • Ramadani Saputra
    Ramadani Saputra

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, May 5, 2020   /   05:32 pm
Athletes risk losing steam in back-to-back national, SEA Games On target: Indonesian modern pentathletes train in Jakarta on Dec. 7, 2019, ahead of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in the Philippines. The team won four out of the six gold medals up for grabs in the pentathlon category. (Antara/Sigid Kurniawan)

The recent decision to delay the Indonesian National Games (PON) in Papua until October 2021 has raised concerns that athletes may be overstretched by back-to-back competition in the PON and the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Vietnam.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo postponed the 2020 PON – the first to be held in Papua – on April 23 as the fight against COVID-19 dragged on.

Previously scheduled to take place from Oct. 20 to Nov. 2 of this year, the games were postponed on the recommendations of both the Coordinating Human Development and Culture Ministry and the Youth and Sports Ministry.

One of the main considerations was the delay in the construction of venues in Papua after the administration closed the region’s ports of entry in March to contain the spread of COVID-19. The restriction has affected shipments of materials needed for construction, officials have said.

The new October 2021 date was recommended by the National Sports Committee (KONI).

“At first we planned to move the games to March but KONI insisted it was not ideal as regional committees may not have secured funds for the PON by then,” Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali said recently.

Zainudin said October of 2021 was the ideal month to host the games, given the packed sports schedule for 2021.

After Ramadan ends in April of next year, Indonesia will host the FIFA U-20 World Cup before sending teams to the Tokyo Olympics in July and August. It will then prepare for mass celebrations to commemorate National Sports Day in September, focusing on sports science, with only a month to spare before the SEA Games begin in Hanoi on Nov. 21.

Experts have expressed concern that the tight schedule could strain the nation’s athletes.

Tandiyo Rahayu, a sports expert from Semarang State University, said athletes who qualified for the SEA Games should not be allowed to compete at the National Games as it would be very risky to expect them to reach peak performance twice in such a short period of time.

Tandiyo said it was necessary to lower the stakes for the PON and view them “as a stage [...] and not the finish line” in the national sports development program.

Doing so would have the government put international achievement before provincial prestige.

Local sports committees have long considered the PON to be the most important sporting competition in the national calendar. Each province deploys its best athletes to win the quadrennial sporting event – even those on the national training center (pelatnas) roster.

The stakes are so high that the buying and selling of athletes between provinces is an open secret. Many represent regions they don’t come from, a practice akin to changing passports to compete on behalf of another country.

“If the selection process for the PON and SEA Games can be done fairly, thoroughly and responsibly, [it will] finally revitalize the National Games,” Tandiyo told The Jakarta Post.

Yogyakarta State University's Djoko Pekik Irianto said the ministry should prevent certain athletes from participating in both competitions “to maintain the country’s achievements at the SEA Games”.

“The local contingents would probably object to that decision [...] but it needs to be done considering the impact [on performance],” he told the Post recently.

Ministry spokesman Gatot S. Dewa Broto said last week that his office would discuss the terms under which athletes would be allowed to compete in the National Games with KONI and the National Olympics Committee.

He noted the previous success of sending the majority of junior national athletes to the 2019 SEA Games, where Indonesia finished in fourth place, with 72 gold medals, 84 silver medals and 111 bronze medals.