JAKARTA – “Nippon! Nippon!”
Most of the people chanting were Indonesian. But their support for the Japanese men’s basketball team echoed loudly around the arena and created a lively atmosphere.
To be fair, there were many rooting for the Qatar team as well. After all, the fans did not really care about who was competing on the court. They just wanted to have some fun at the Asian Games.
Ir Manto, a veteran reporter for Indonesia’s Antara News Agency, said during halftime of Tuesday’s Japan-Philippines men’s basketball game that Indonesians are thrilled to be hosting the quadrennial event in Jakarta.
The Indonesian capital last staged the continental sporting extravaganza in 1962, and is now hosting it for the second time.
“People are excited about the opportunity,” said Manto, who is mainly covering basketball and volleyball at the games. “I think the games are organized much better than 50 years ago.”
Later in the day, a group of around 10 Indonesians were rocking with laughter as they took photos with Gelora Bungo Karno Stadium behind them. They said they had just come out of the volleyball arena after a men’s contest between Indonesia and South Korea.
They were ecstatic about being able to watch different sports live in Jakarta and Palembang.
“We are excited about this,” one woman said. “Because we can see different countries competing against each other right in front of us.”
Indonesia’s athletes have not disappointed their fans either. With enthusiastic home support, the host country has been successful at the games so far, placing fourth in the medal standings — in both the number of gold medals (24) and total medals (72) — behind China, Japan and South Korea through Tuesday.
Another female fan said Indonesia went in the games looking to finish in the top 10 of the gold-medal count. She proudly explained that the nation’s representatives have exceeded people’s expectations.
“I wouldn’t call it a surprise,” she said, “But we know that our athletes had worked so hard for the games, so their efforts have paid off so far.”
And what a perfect place Jakarta is to host a multisport event like the Asiad.
Gelora Bungo Karno Sports Complex (known locally as “GBK”), which was built for the 1962 Asiad, is a gigantic, 300-hectare athletic park which has permanent venues for other sports such as badminton, aquatics, volleyball, tennis, basketball, hockey, archery and shooting, with the main stadium located in the middle.
This arrangement sees fans of different sports crossing paths in same park, increasing the festival atmosphere of the games.
Because many of the venues are nearby, reporters can go from one sport to another quickly.
This reporter told an Indonesian reporter that he was jealous of such an environment, because the venues for the Tokyo Olympics will be spread out over a large area. The journalist responded by saying: “But you have a great transportation system, so it should not be a problem.”
Despite being a city with 10 million citizens, the transportation system in Jakarta remains underdeveloped, so there are chronic traffic jams for much of the day.
The convention center is situated right by the park, and serves as the main press and broadcasting center during the games. The halls at the center also serve as venues for some indoor sports such as fencing, karate and judo.
The GBK is also a famous place for the general public to enjoy sports including jogging, cycling, and aerobics.
When quizzed by this reporter about Japanese sports, a number of Indonesian citizens, journalists, and volunteers could not name specific athletes.
But, because soccer is the most popular team sport in Indonesia, one taxi driver referred to star Japanese player Keisuke Honda. Many regarded badminton as their favorite sport, and one male fan was able to mention Kento Momota, Japan’s top-ranked male player and worldwide No. 4 who won gold at the recent world championships in Nanjing.
Away from sports, the general perception of Indonesians toward Japan and its people tends to be very favorable. While none of the people interviewed had ever been to Japan, they acknowledged the “polite” reputation of Japanese people, saying that their “hospitality is great,” while the country is “beautiful” and “safe.”
Another female fan praised the Japanese tourism bureau for their recent efforts to promote the country within Indonesia.