Infrastructure development in Jakarta has caused even more severe traffic congestion, Jakarta, July 25, 2017. Image: iStock/Getty Images
Infrastructure development in Jakarta has caused even more severe traffic congestion, Jakarta, July 25, 2017. Image: iStock/Getty Images

Jakartans are looking forward with a measure of trepidation to the August-September Asian Games and the impact visiting athletes and fans will have on the Indonesian capital’s already overstretched transport infrastructure.

The same problem will face Bali five weeks later when a whopping 17,500 less-sporting delegates descend on the resort island for the annual International Monetary Fund (IMF)-World Bank (WB) meetings amid a heavy security detail.

Both would in theory present a potential image boost for President Joko Widodo, just six months out from the April 2019 presidential and legislative elections where he will seek to win a second term on the back of already high-flying opinion poll ratings. They could instead have the opposite effect if the showcase events are weighed down by gridlock and poor planning.

Although the 18th Asian Games, to be staged from August 18-September 2, is being shared with the South Sumatra capital of Palembang, many of the 40 sporting events are to be held at the Gelora Bung Karno Sports Complex, conveniently – or perhaps inconveniently — located in the heart of Jakarta.

Named after founding president Sukarno, the complex was built for the 1962 Asian Games when the city was a very different place, one virtually devoid of cars and motorcycles and the 3.5 million people who now commute in traffic of epic proportions into the downtown area from outlying suburbs each day.

Vehicles caught in a traffic jam in Jakarta. Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta/File Photo

The early 1960s was also a very different era. The facilities were built with a soft US$12.5 million loan from the Soviet Union, Sukarno’s Cold War ally who also supplied most of the Indonesian military’s hardware and the muscular Stalinist statutory still in evidence across the capital.

The Gelora complex includes the refurbished 76,000-seat National Stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies and boasts an aquatic center, tennis courts, indoor venues for badminton and basketball, and hockey, baseball and football fields.

But while it may have been an ideal location four decades ago, the 18th Asiad is taking place when Jakarta still resembles a giant construction site as work proceeds across the city on new mass rail transit (MRT) and light rail transit (LRT) systems and elevated roads.

The Asian Games chief organizer, Erick Thohir, acknowledges in public presentations that transport remains his biggest worry, with thought being given to halting construction work and even declaring a school holiday during the length of the August 18-September 2 sports festival.

Thohir, 47, a businessman and owner of the Inter Milan and DC United football clubs, was brought into the job in 2015 in an effort to keep spending down to the current US$479 million; his elder brother, Garibaldi, is chief executive of Adaro Energy, a major coal miner and power developer.

Indonesian wokers work at the athletics venue in the Senayan sport complex in Jakarta on October 12, 2017. Photo: AFP/Adek Berry

Scrapping plans for an Asian youth games, renovating instead of replacing the existing venues and attracting more sponsorship has allowed Thohir to cut 25% from the original cost. But it still leaves him with the headache of moving athletes and fans around.

In Jakarta, local residents already have some idea of the looming chaos from their experience with unruly football fans who pack the stadium for regular club matches and are prone to violence when they spill out onto surrounding streets during the evening rush hour.

The attendance record for one match in 1985 was 150,000, twice the stadium’s capacity. How they all fitted in remains a mystery, but the latest refurbishment work has done away with the previous wooden benches in favor of individual seating.

Thohir believes cancelling school classes and adjusting office working hours will help reduce congestion by a targeted 20%-30%, with Asian Games vehicles being allowed to use existing Transjakarta busway lanes to transport athletes to and from venues.

The organizing committee has set 34 minutes as the maximum time for participants to travel between the athletes’ village in northern Kemayoran and the Bung Karno complex, which will take them through two of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.

Indonesia anti-terror police take a part in a counterterrorism exercise at Benoa harbor in Denpasar, Bali, March 8, 2018. Photo: AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka

Gradually turning into a traffic nightmare itself, Bali has additional concerns as it prepares for the IMF-WB conference, which is being held in the 350-hectare enclave of Nusa Dua at the southern end of the island.

Connected to the airport by a cross-water expressway, originally built for the 2013 Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) conference, what makes Nusa Dua ideal is that security forces can restrict land access to the hotels that will accommodate the delegates.

As many as 15 heads of state are expected at the financial summit, with a small fleet of limousines set aside for each of them and two vehicles assigned to each of the ministers and central bank governors.

A football field, lying between Nusa Dua and neighboring Jimbaran, is the only authorized area where anti-globalization protestors – a usual feature at these extravaganzas — can gather to air their grievances.

Organizers say because they booked long in advance about 20% of the rooms in the island’s more than 20 luxury resorts will still be occupied by non-meeting tourists who may discover the presence of heavily-armed soldiers doesn’t make for a relaxing vacation.

In fact, more than 8,000 soldiers and policemen, including members of the elite Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus), are being mobilized to safeguard the summit, along with two navy frigates that will be anchored offshore to secure the sea approaches.

Indonesian long jumper Maria Natalia Londa at the 2014 Asiad games in South Korea. Picture: Youtube

The IMF-World Bank talkfest is not offering medals, but for putting up with the traffic congestion Indonesians are hoping their athletes will reward them by performing a lot better at the Asian Games after finishing in a dismal 17th place at the last spectacle in Incheon, South Korea in 2014.

It may be no coincidence that Indonesia’s best-ever finish was at the 1962 Asiad when it finished second behind Japan with 11 gold, 12 silver and 21 bronze. But since then it has climbed no higher than sixth place and in 2006 slumped to a lackluster 22nd out of 45 participating nations.

Historically, it has won 203 medals (12 gold, 60 silver and 95 bronze), well behind its three closest Southeast Asian rivals, Thailand (513), the Philippines (390) and Malaysia (276). Now it remains to be seen whether home-field advantage works to its favor again, 56 years later.