Indonesia is not famous by any stretch for international achievements in sports. Government officials have repeatedly pointed to the lack of funding as the main reason. But The Jakarta Post’s Matheos Viktor Messakh looks at the issue and finds that funding is not the sole reason, as sports represents a low priority for the government and there exists a lack of transparency as well as uncertainty in setting benchmarks for state funding for sports associations.
Even when he had to bring lifters to compete in international events, weightlifting official Alamsyah Wijaya had to dig deep in his own pocket to pay for airfare, travel documents, accommodation and pocket money.
Now in his ninth year as secretary-general of the Indonesian Weightlifting, Powerlifting and Bodybuilding Association (PABBSI) — sports that have produced great athletes with notable international accolades for the country — he has come to believe that expecting the government to shell out money is a waste of time and energy.
“The government and KONI [the National Sports Council] only paid lip service when they said weightlifting was a priority. We won an Olympic medal in 2000 there has been no significant support since,” Alamsyah said.
Alamsyah’s frustration is shared by many. Annual state funding for sports has become a burning issue.
Although the amount of the state budget allocated to the Youth and Sports Ministry has significantly increased from Rp 300 billion (US$33.3 million) in 2004 to Rp 1.1 trillion this year, leaders of sports associations still complain of the lack of priority and transparency.
Alamsyah expressed frustration at government rhetoric that weightlifting was a priority sport in the country.
“The money we receive in a year is about Rp 3 billion, while the PSSI [soccer association], for example, receives Rp 48 billion. That’s what I mean by a lack of priority. Give me Rp 48 billion and I will guarantee gold at the London Olympics,” he said.
Alamsyah should mean what he said about medal prospects at the Olympics. Indonesian weightlifters have managed to perform well at very high levels in the past 10 years despite poor facilities and lack of government support.
Indonesian weightlifters bagged one silver and two bronze medals at the 2000 Sidney Olympics, one silver in Athens four years later, and two silver and four bronze in Beijing, a respectable feat surpassed only by the badminton contingent, the country’s long-held source of pride when it comes to international sporting achievements.
PABBSI is one of few associations with a clear vision of the long term development of the sport. For example, it has set its sights on the upcoming Youth Olympic Games and has since 2007 prepared its under-17 athletes.
The result of this preparation is that weightlifting became the first sport in the country to secure a place at the 2010 Youth Olympics Games in Singapore.
The squad further sealed their supremacy in international events when they dominated the Asian Junior Championships last December in Dubai with nine gold, four silver and six bronze medals.
“Before the Dubai event, we asked the ministry to provide us with Rp 109 million to support three athletes, one coach and one official. Three days prior departure, the ministry said they would give us Rp 75 million, but we only received the money a month after we got back.
“This is a big problem but obviously not the fault of anyone specifically. It’s a bureaucracy problem. Every time we go abroad we have to be ready to use our own money. ”
This week, PABBSI saw another female lifter secure a spot at the Youth Olympic Games after a qualification tournament in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Ironically, the team managed to go and compete in Tashkent only after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave a $35,000 solidarity fund for the federation as a “reward” for its efforts to have it first athlete qualify for the Youth Games.
PABBSI recently proposed a budget of Rp 4.9 billion (US$532,608) to the government for the development of junior and youth weightlifters, but is still awaiting approval. Given the history, however, hopes are slim.
“We submitted a similar proposal following the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand. It was never approved,” PABBSI deputy Sjafriadi Tjut said.
Like weightlifting, badminton is also one of the sports fighting its own battle to win medals at international events, although badminton is bit luckier thanks in part to the participation of the private sector and a higher profile.
As the only sport in which Indonesia has won the gold at the Olympics, badminton has attracted quite a few sponsors, according to Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI) secretary-general Yacob Rusdianto.
For more than 20 years, the PBSI has been sponsored by sporting apparel company Yonex.
This year the PBSI received Rp 20 billion, double the Rp 10 billion it received last year.
From the government, the PBSI, which trains 80 players at all levels and 18 coaches, receives different amounts for the preparation of group events such as SEA Games or Thomas Cup. It also receives less than Rp 100 million a year for administrative expenses.
Yacob said that as a source of national pride with a gold medal hopes at every Olympics, badminton still lacked special attention from the government, and was left to build partnerships with private companies.
To help meet international challenges facing badminton and to help deliver the sporting excellence expected by the public, additional funding will be used to enhance high performance coaching, identifying talent and to provide more sophisticated sports science and support services to elite athletes, he added.
“Our responsibility is very great. We still need financial support from the government. To obtain maximum results, we definitely need more funding,” Yacob said.
“In China and Korea, the government finances almost everything. Malaysia bought dozens of former world champions including Indra Gunawan and Rexy Mainaky form Indonesia. It is us they are looking to overtake and we should be aware of this.”
Despite the complaints, the secretary to the Youth and Sports Minister, Wafid Muharam, denied that the government gave less attention to sports funding and that sports development was not a priority.
“We really pay attention to the Olympics, Asian Games and SEA Games. However, we cannot give sufficiently fund all sports, only the sports where our athletes show great achievements,” Muharam told the Post.
“It’s impossible for the government to fund every single sport. It is good if these associations can get sponsors. In the end, it depends on the inventiveness of the people in the associations.”
This year, the ministry received a budget allocation of Rp 1.5 trillion. Rp 1.1 trillion was allocated to sports, Rp 258.7 billions to youth affairs and Rp 179.4 billions to good governance programs.
Looking to overhaul the lack of funding, Wafid said that the ministry was lobbying the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry to encourage state firms to sponsor at least one sport.
“Learning from the fact that many sports association are not financially independent, we encourage State-Owned Enterprises to support athletes, coaches and referee development rather than just supporting sporting events,” he said.
Wafid also said that part of problem was the fund-raising ability of associations, including the ability to make proposals to the ministry. Recently, he said, the ministry rejected several unqualified proposals for SEA Games preparation funding.
“The people in the associations made small mistakes such as bank account numbers. We can’t provide them with money given such trivialities because these are state funds,” he said.
Alamsyah, however, said that mistakes were with the ministry and KONI.
“They claim people in the associations did not ask for money, but in fact there is no forum for that matter. There is no formal mechanism for associations to apply for funds.”