The Jakarta Post
For many of the world’s athletes, the COVID-19 pandemic has put an abrupt end to international competitions and other opportunities to travel outside their home training grounds.
And while the disease has given them some respite from their rigorous training, the highly prized lives of athletes are not always as glamorous as they appear to be on social media.
Like any other person, sport professionals have to deal with bouts of jetlag, the heavy shuffling of equipment and tight budget constraints – all the while navigating even tighter competition schedules.
Former Indonesian top tennis player Angelique Widjaja once said that one of her reasons for retiring was that she felt “burned out by the grind of constant travel”.
To wit, here are just some of the challenges Indonesian athletes face when they travel abroad for competitions:
1. Complicated visa applications
It may come as no surprise that the luxuries that an athlete can afford are only going to be as good as their passports, and the Indonesian passport has proven to be less robust than those of other countries.
Athletes, especially those who compete as individuals in sports like tennis or badminton, must put aside some of their personal time to process their own visa applications for overseas events.
Before the coronavirus disease swept the globe, the management team of the Indonesian Surfing Association was almost at wit’s end in the application process to send their surfers to compete in the 2020 World Surfing Games in El Salvador.
The fact that El Salvador had yet to open a representative office in Indonesia meant that the association had to go overseas to apply for visas for their surfers to go, well, overseas.
“It turns out that Indonesian [passport holders] must go through the visa application process at El Salvador’s consulate general in Melbourne, Australia,” said association chief Arya Sena Subyakto in March.
“The thing is, in order to process the visas in Melbourne, we also needed to apply for an Australian visa, for which we did not have enough time. I wish we could just send out our documents there and not go to the consulate in person.”
The 2020 World Surfing Games act as a final qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but both competitions have been postponed due to the pandemic. The International Surfing Association expects the Surfing Games to be held in the second half of the year, from its initial May timetable, while the Olympics will be postponed until next year.
2. Lugging around sports equipment
Aside from the nerves that kick in at the start of a competition, there is another thing that most athletes fear when they have to travel abroad: lugging around heavy and expensive equipment. Most athletes worry that something might occur to their gear in transit – a common story even today.
National archer Riau Ega Agatha was well acquainted with this situation since the moment he became a professional athlete.
In June 2019, his confidence deflated after finding out upon his arrival in the Netherlands that the case of his bow and arrow had broken. Riau and his teammates were just about to compete at the World Archery Championship in Hertogensbosch.
“When I found out there was a hole in the case, I was utterly disappointed,” Riau told The Jakarta Post recently.
“I don’t know why the case was broken. Maybe it got thrown about [when it was moved between airplanes]. I couldn’t do much about it.
“I bought a new case in the Netherlands. My bow was fine, but I was afraid there could be splinters,” he said.
There are also other problems with lugging around sports equipment – especially when international airport security flags them as dangerous.
Professional pole vaulters also have to contend with such issues.
In 2018, the Indonesian Athletics Association (PASI) failed to send its athlete Idan Fauzan Richsan to the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) Under-20 World Championship in Finland, simply because there were no airlines that permitted the transport of vaulting poles.
“I’ve spoken at an international forum and found that some other countries experience a similar problem. Only those in Europe don’t experience this,” PASI secretary-general Tigor Tanjung said recently.
3. Traveling on a budget
Contrary to popular belief and the image well-heeled international superstars often portray, most Indonesian tennis players don’t get backing from big-name sponsors to fund their overseas tournament expenses.
Instead, athletes must often compensate for their skimpy travel budget when competing abroad. A five-star hotel suite is almost never an option for them, as they are forced to think about other expenses when competing.
Pro tennis player Beatrice Gumulya said she used her bonuses earned at competitions like the National Games (PON) to cover her expenses at other tournaments.
One of the ways she cuts back on expenses is to lodge with overseas acquaintances or in budget hotels.
“If, for instance, the tournament’s official hotel partner commands Rp 600,000 (US$39) per night, I always try to find somewhere else that is cheaper. One time I even slept at a hotel that only cost me Rp 200,000 and I shared the room with my friend,” she told the Post recently.
She would often have to sacrifice convenience for cost, especially when the official hotels are just minutes away from the tournament venue. “[For me, it usually] takes up to 30 minutes to reach the venue. But that’s the reality I face, because I don’t have enough money to spend,” she said.
Beatrice says her mindset makes all the difference between playing for leisure and competing professionally.
“I don’t like to eat at expensive restaurants; if I really wanted to, I would do it after winning the tournament,” she said. “If I don’t do this, there is no way my tennis career would ever thrive.”