Positives Outweigh Negatives at Asian Games

(ATR) The 18th edition in Indonesia is long on charm but well short of perfection.

(ATR) The 18th Asian Games are long on charm but well short of perfection.

Jakarta has proven to be an admirable host. That alone is something of a surprise. Multiple NOCs and International Federations confided at the start they were genuinely terrified the Games may not take place. This was more than the usual pre-Games jitters. Horror stories including schedules not being finalized just days before departure, customs being a nightmare and an often non-existent organizing committee were just some of the concerns.

Let’s get the bad news from the 2018 Asian Games out of the way.

To be honest, these Games are very far from being perfect.

Traffic has always been awful for Jakarta (residents call it "macet"). During the Games it’s no different although traffic restrictions have loosened the snarl slightly. INSAGOC (the organizing committee) cannot be faulted for a city with around a dozen traffic lights and fewer traffic laws. But the soul-numbing commute means going to far-flung venues is a chore. Athletes have avoided that problem by having a police escort in front of their buses.

While this is a sport competition, there’s often no parity between competitors and the quality that is there often is not elite level. In baseball for example, the mercy rule has been employed in the vast majority of games. In the men’s 10,000-meter race the last-place finisher had a time that could be matched by a dedicated amateur. The Saudi Arabian women’s badminton team swatted and missed the shuttlecock nearly 10 times in one match.

Few Indonesians have come out to see the events. Ticket prices are partly to blame--they’re too high for the average Indonesian. Indonesians’ lack of interest in non-badminton sports is also partly to blame, as is school being in session and numerous problems with the ticket-selling process.

The good, though, far outweighs the bad.

Most importantly, the athletes are happy and performing as best they can. That’s the only thing that matters for a sports event.

Helping them to victory is the friendliness of Jakartans--they genuinely love everyone! I’ve been stopped many times just to be told "Obama!" (he lived in Indonesia) or "welcome to Jakarta" and I’m not alone.

The volunteers are incredible. This is, without a doubt, the most helpful, knowledgeable volunteer corps of any event I’ve attended. Every Games’ success is owed to volunteers. Here they are genuinely cheerful and exude hospitality.

GBK park is host to most events in Jakarta and was originally built for the 1962 Asian Games. The venues were spruced up before this year’s Games and this reutilization of venues should be a model of true sustainability for the Olympics.

Another model for the Olympics is how dynamic the Asian Games’ sports program is. I have no idea what kabbadi or kurash or sepak takraw are even after watching them, but it’s great that native Asian sports can be celebrated on such a prominent stage. Each Games organizer can add events of its own and they’re selected based on what gets the host another medal. That means, here, for example, contract bridge, which was allegedly added because Indonesia’ richest man Michael Bambang Hartonois an avid bridge player and pined for an Asian Games medal. The 78-year-old Hartono eventually won bronze in supermixed bridge.

Need an Indonesian souvenir at the Games? The Asian Zone outside GBK stadium has you covered. After the sponsor stalls, a mini flea market and collection of pop-up shops line the way to the stadium. A skateboard half-pipe with graffiti is the last attraction before the stadium. Can you imagine the IOC letting organizers have that much fun while engaging with all walks of fans?

There’s still five days left of competition and who knows what will happen. But the Games have been a flawed, but completely charming experience.

Coverage of the 18th Asian Games is made possible in part by the Olympic Council of Asia

Written by Edward Hula IIIin Jakarta

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