Tue, 18 Sep 2001

From Malaysia with shame

Indonesia has again repeated its shameless failure in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, incapable of emerging as the overall champion of the recent biennial event. Our athletes lost the games held in Kuala Lumpur last week, the same shameless result the country had to swallow at the first SEA Games in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei Darussalam, in 1989.

Gone are the years when Indonesia was a Southeast Asian sporting superpower and if the national sports associations continue to be managed in the same old manner by the same old people, achievements more disgraceful than those seen in Vietnam in 1993 will occur in the future.

Long before the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games opened, many people, inside and outside Indonesia, believed that our athletes would have to succumb to their regional rivals because our country has been suffering harshly from the multi-dimensional crisis for three years. But delving deeper into the source of the dilemma, there would appear to be a case for several other causes.

First, National Sports Council (KONI) management seems to have failed to learn from past fiascoes, especially the one in Brunei Darussalam, and to digest what that meant for this nation.

Over the past five years, the nurturing of new athletes has been a total disaster for many reasons. Training should start in primary schools -- in China they start in kindergarten -- but our elementary schools do not have the facilities to support the policy because many of them have been built on limited plots of land, too small for sports facilities. In this situation we see that sports instructors are not well respected and get no opportunity to realize their ideas and vision.

In the management of our sports development, we have seen very little activity aimed at the preparation of a new generation of athletes. At the Kuala Lumpur Games we saw the same old veteran athletes in swimming, tennis, badminton, boxing and gymnastics, instead of the young ones. While not many of these veterans can win gold medals, the young ones who guarantee the future have been forgotten.

In two years from now, the situation in training camps will look even gloomier. The Ministry of National Education, at this moment, cannot be expected to pay serious attention to national sports activities because critical problems within the education system are causing it enough headaches.

Over the last five years, KONI has organized very few competitions, both at home or aboard, in an effort to boost the quality of our athletes. In soccer, financial reasons seem to be irrelevant because the state-owned Bank Mandiri has contributed no less than US$10 million annually for the competitions. Yet in Kuala Lumpur last week, Indonesia failed to win a gold medal, losing to Thailand.

Our coaches also lack experiences because they are just former players without coaching experience overseas. Therefore, some good players have shown themselves to be better than the coaches. The reason for not sending them abroad is typically Indonesian: They are unable to speak English. This country is fortunate that some parents have been successful in training their children to be prospective tennis, badminton and swimming stars.

Another irritating problem is the lasting effects of president Soeharto's policy of appointing high-ranking officials, with easy access to financial resources, to certain posts within sports development. This policy should be revised immediately because it is no longer relevant to this country and its current situation.

Mohammad (Bob) Hasan, a business tycoon and Soeharto crony who was once appointed trade minister as well as being placed in charge of athletics development, did in fact do his job well and maintains the post. However, he is now serving a six-year jail term for corruption on the island of Cilacap in Central Java and cannot be contacted for any reason.

Rahardi Ramelan, the former vice chairman of the National Planning Board who has been charged with the development of gymnastics, is nowhere to be found, even by the Attorney General who wants to question him for alleged corruption.

Who is responsible for these herculean failures? Part of the darker side of Indonesian culture has always been the difficulty to find people who are willing to accept responsibility for such debacles, either verbally or by deed, such as by quitting the job. KONI's chairman, the retired Army general Wismoyo Arismunandar, has been there since 1995 and was reelected in 1999 for another four-year term. For his supporters, surely he is not in the position to maintain the nation's good name in sport, but to keep their positions intact.