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As Asian Games commence, Indonesia hopes for economic boost, looks to Olympic bid

A countdown clock to the start of the 2018 Asian Games is seen in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, on Aug. 17, 2018. (Mainichi)

The 2018 Asian Games kicked off in Indonesia on Aug. 18, and hopes are high the event will both give the local economy a boost and set the stage for a bid to host the Olympics and Paralympics.

Indonesian National Olympic Committee director Syahrir Nawier pointed out that emerging Asian and African countries now have a chance to host the Olympics, and that hosting can have a significant impact both economically and politically. Until now, just three Asian nations have hosted the Summer Olympics: Japan, China and South Korea. Indonesia is the first member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to express a definite desire to apply to host the games.

In fact, this edition of the Asian Games was originally set to be held in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi in 2019, but Vietnam withdrew due to fiscal difficulties. And so Indonesia stepped in, splitting the events between two cities -- Palembang in Sumatra province, and the capital Jakarta -- for the first time in the games' history.

The Indonesian government began work on a new stadium plus upgrades to existing facilities in 2015, at a total budgeted cost of some 34.3 trillion rupiah (about 26 billion yen, or $2.35 billion) according to local media outlets. In addition, construction commenced on major transportation infrastructure projects including cutting-edge light rail and mass transit lines. All told, it is estimated that the work created more than 50,000 jobs in Jakarta and Palembang. Meanwhile, with more than 200,000 visitors expected during the Asian Games, hopes are high that the sports tourism rush will pay big dividends for the Indonesian economy.

"I suspect Indonesia wants to take the next step, which is to bid for the Olympics," commented Yuri Sato, director at the Institute of Developing Economies at the Japan External Trade Organization (IDE-JETRO) and a longtime researcher on the Indonesian region. "The Asian Games itself is a huge event that tests a nation's strength, and the government is betting its reputation on its success."

Some 250 million people live in Indonesia, and the population is expected to grow, so hosting the Summer Olympics appears to represent a real chance to give the country an economic boost. One person close to the Asian Games organizing committee even projected that after the Tokyo 2020, Paris 2024, and Los Angeles 2028 summer games, Jakarta would be next.

However, the cost of hosting the Olympics and Paralympics has been swelling, peaking at the some 5 trillion yen (about $45.25 billion) Russia spent on the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. This rising tide has sparked a backlash against hosting the event, primarily in the West, and many candidate cities have dropped out of the running.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) simultaneously naming Paris and Los Angeles as the next two host cities smacked of desperation. With so few cities with Olympic ambitions, the IOC should welcome interest from emerging countries. However, there is no guarantee that the days of nations seeking to host the games to boost their national prestige will return.


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