Sports funding has always been a problem for many developing countries, but messy management of the relatively limited pool of money played a major role in the decline in the performance of Indonesian athletes within a few decades.
Indonesia, a participant in the Olympics since 1952, eventually won its first gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona games. The two gold medals from badminton saw the country end the event ranked 24. However, the country won only one gold medal in the games since then, which saw it finish lower: 41st in Atlanta, 38th in Sydney, 48th in Athens and 42 in Beijing.
Indonesian athletes have won a total of 25 Olympic medals with most of the medals coming from badminton, archery and weightlifting.
The country’s performance is also experiencing a decline in regional events.
Indonesia had dominated the South East Asian (SEA) Games for three decades since its first participation in 1977 by topping standings in the biennial event nine times and only lost out to Thailand in 1985 and 1995.
However, since 1999, the country has only managed to eke out a third place finish at best. It even lags behind the relative newcomers Vietnam.
“The problem with government funding is that stakeholders do not really understand how sports should be developed,” National Olympic Committee (KOI) secretary-general Arie Ariotedjo said.
“There is the impression that KONI [the National Sports Council] and KOI beg for government funding. Sport is not a proprietary business. Wherever the money goes, whether through KONI or directly handed to sports associations is irrelevant, as long as the money is used as intended.”
In order to host the 2011 SEA Games, for example, KOI and KONI had come up with a proposal for Rp 1.5 trillion (US$166 billion), but the government has so far agreed to only Rp. 350 billion. The ministry is now proposing a revision to increase the allocation to Rp. 1 trillion.
Ariotedjo said the National Development Planning Ministry and the Finance Ministry slashed the allocation because the Youth and Sports Ministry did not invite KOI and KONI to defend the proposal.
KOI program manager Gregory Wilson said the lack of government funding showed the poor commitment of the government to developing sports.
“Overall, it doesn’t seem like the government is serious about sports development in Indonesia,” Wilson told The Jakarta Post.
“I don’t think [they are serious] in terms of the proportion of GDP. It’s not a priority issue: you can compare the funding levels of neighbors such as Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, I think it’s relatively small,” he added.
Wilson said the Youth and Sports Ministry had always said that the country wanted to be in the top 20 of the 2016 Olympic Games after regaining supremacy in Southeast Asia, but that when it came to money, there was no support.
“There is a third world mentality associated with sports funding in this country. But it’s not a third world country, it’s a developing, proud country that needs to be the premier nation in Southeast Asia and even within Asia itself. But you can’t achieve that without sustained funding and programs and without some real commitment and leadership from the government.”
The government needs to be committed to continuous funding to assure better preparations, Wilson added.
“We finished the SEA Games last year and here we are in April when we just saw in the paper that we still can’t get the funds. The Asian Games [in November] are going to be over before we actually get any programs started. There is not enough development time.”
In addition to a relatively small amount of funds, a lack of priority means the limited money is not used efficiently, Wilson said.
“Last year [the government] sent people all over the world to do tryouts, which is a low priority. And now when we need funds for qualification and important international competitions such as the Youth Olympic Games, they say there’s no funds.”
Legislator Utut Adianto said he believed inconsistency in the financial models of support made sports development stagnant.
“We are half-hearted about models of funding we need to embrace. Ideally, sports should not be funded by the state, therefore becoming an Olympic champion like Michael Phelps is not the state’s business.
“But this country still needs glory so the sports funding is still in need of government backing,” Utut, a member of the House of Representatives’ Commission X overseeing sports, youth affairs, tourism, culture and education, said.
He added that the country should choose to either fully support sports development or to leave it to other parties.
“If the government decides to fund sports, they have to work out how much is enough,” the chess Grandmaster said.
Utut said he believed that fund proposals are trimmed by the Finance Ministry and the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) — as the two institutions are best placed to decide allocations the money the country has — and by parliament.
“There are many interests in the House and there is a struggle on whether to approve proposals or to trim them.”
Indonesian Weightlifting, Powerlifting and Bodybuilding Association (PABBSI) secretary-general Alamsyah Wijaya said the government gave too much emphasis on multi sporting events rather than single events. He said single events were the best catalysts to groom athletes with a minimum amount of funding.
Alamsyah agreed with the idea of a state-public partnership to fund sports, but said the current level of state funding for sports was enough.
“The classic problem of funding sports in Indonesia is that many people use institutions such as sport federations and sports committees at national or regional levels for personal gain,” he said.
“For example, from the current budget of Rp 1.1 trillion, the Youth and Sports Ministry sets aside
Rp 600 billion for sports development. If the Rp 600 billion is disbursed to 50 sports unions, each union would receive Rp 12 billion a year.
“For us, that is more than enough. If PABBSI was given that for five years, we would guarantee gold at the Olympics.”
For the former national weightlifter, individual sports should be prioritized rather than team sports because they were relatively cheaper to develop.