Don’t laugh! This is a serious matter. Female athletes’ outfits can disrupt the upcoming Asian Games here! You can argue that the sports apparel meets international standards and Indonesia has no choice but to abide by the rule. But don’t forget this is Indonesia. We are very good at creating our own logic. For instance, the bikini bottoms worn by female beach volleyball players violate religious norms.
Remember, this is a political year for Indonesia and tensions between supporters of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and those of his likely presidential election opponent Prabowo Subianto are simmering. If you follow social media, you can easily sense deepseated hatred among supporters.
On June 27, 17 provinces, 39 cities and 115 regencies will hold simultaneous elections. In the past, political contests have often been marred by violence as the losers could not accept their defeat. Conflict has even dragged on for months after the elections were over.
Another crucial moment in this election year will come in August, when presidential candidates, perhaps including Jokowi and Prabowo, and their running mates register with the national poll body as a requirement to run in the April 21, 2019 election.
Those political events will take place close to the Asian Games, which will run from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2 in Jakarta and the South Sumatra capital of Palembang.
The government is preoccupied by and spending big on the preparations for the continent’s largest sporting event, although the efforts have not yet pleased the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). But whether the government has anticipated politicization of any Asian Games-related issue that people would not make a fuss about in normal years is really a question.
Chief of the Indonesian Asian Games Organizing Committee (INASGOC) Erick Thohir proudly announced a few days ago the government would provide maximum security to ensure the Games run peacefully.
Last Saturday’s incident in the aftermath of the President Cup soccer tournament at Bung Karno Stadium in Central Jakarta, a test event for the Asian Games, shows how politics can easily steal the show. During the trophy presentation to the champions Persija Jakarta, the presidential security detail prevented Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan from joining President Jokowi, despite the presidential protocol that says otherwise.
Later on, Maruarar Sirait, head of the tournament’s steering committee who is also an Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician, took the blame for the incident. But that fails to stop the perception that vengeance was behind the restriction of Anies, who beat PDI-P candidate Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama in last year’s election.
Controversy surrounding the breach of the presidential protocol on Saturday serves as a grim reminder that the wound resulting from the 2014 presidential election and the 2017 Jakarta election is far from healed and animosity between supporters of Jokowi and Prabowo only need a trigger to explode.
In an election year, anything is prone to exploitation for political gains. There is a possibility that seemingly trivial matters such as the outfits of female athletes in beach volleyball, gymnastics and aquatics, including swimming and synchronized swimming, during the Asian Games trigger noisy protests or perhaps street rallies.
And acts of violence remain a potential threat as the President Cup final last Saturday has indicated. Hooligans destroyed two gates and seven boards attached to the fence of the stadium. Seats and gardens were also damaged.
Police must uphold the law against the hooligans as a deterrent effect. It is regrettable the government tried to play down the vandalism, saying the damage could be easily repaired.
Much is at stake in the upcoming Asian Games, which has a high political value especially for Jokowi. Successful organization of the Games, not to mention the Indonesian team’s ability to meet its gold medal winning target, will give Jokowi great political capital to win reelection next year.
So the government should take all measures at its disposal to anticipate any actions, either planned or spontaneous, that could disrupt the historic Asian Games, which will return to Jakarta after 56 years.
I have no doubt about the police’s capacity and capability, especially with the help of the military, to prevent terrorist acts from threatening the Asian Games. The government, too, will be able to solve all remaining problems in time, as has often happened in the past.
To prevent the nation from another division, the government needs to launch intensive campaigns to make sure the public knows that the Asian Games is for the glory of the whole nation, rather than for the interest of the government and Jokowi. The nation, including those who are against Jokowi’s reelection, have to stand united and work together to make the Asian Games a big success.
In the Asian Games, as in other international multisports events, sexy outfits are not and should not be a big issue.