Sports Key to Social Change and Solidarity

This article was published by Jakarta Globe, 26 January 2010

The loss by our national team in the “must-win” match against Oman points once again to the lack of development of sports in Indonesia. The country’s national football team, known as PSSI, performed poorly in 2009 in all age groups. The under-23 team did not win a single medal at the Southeast Asian Games in Laos, while the under-19 team failed to bring home the prize from AFC U-19. This is a distressing situation for football-mad Indonesians.

It’s a common belief that we lack the funds to cultivate our football players and enable them to consistently perform on the international stage. But how can we compete when even our leading coaches are under-paid? Benny Dollo, the coach of PSSI, has to hold down a second job as a director at Persija, a situation that must hinder his ability to focus and dedicate his expertise 100 percent to a PSSI team that is desperately in need of a win. This cannot be compared to the Guus Hiddink situation whereby he was able to coach both South Korea and PSV Eindhoven in 2002 and Chelsea and Russia in 2009. Hiddink is dealing with teams that are well-developed and supported by professional coaching staff and players. Very unlike the conditions here.

In the past, former coach Ivan Kolev and his aides have faced late wages. Renowned Sriwijaya FC coach Rahmad Darmawan refused to handle PSSI as an expression of the discontent with the low pay offered. What would be the expected outcome from this situation? For one, PSSI has missed out on the continental championship for the first time since 1996. Poor budgeting is most negative factor that contributes to PSSI’s inability to enhance Indonesia’s reputation even at the South East Asia level.

The country’s poor performance in football is a sad reflection of our national sports performance program, which is enshrined in the Sport Law. Something must change.

The government has yet to put in place the fundamental principles that will enable the creation of a sustainable sport development program that grooms potential athletes from an early age. The state, through the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sport, which plays a vital role in the development of all major sports, has only allocated 0.1 percent (Rp 857 billion or $19.7 million) of the state budget for sports. National Sports Committee of Indonesia (KONI) chairwoman, Rita Subowo, has complained about the small budget and limited infrastructure provided by the state. The results are that we have produced very few champions in major international sports.

Our government doesn’t mind spending Rp 126.8 billion of state funds to provide cabinet members with luxury Toyota Crown Royal Saloons and another billion for the new deputy minister facilities and perks. Better our government spend the taxpayers’ money on sports development improvements. In light of this, I would suggest that our government still views sports development as a less than significant issue.

Perhaps the it fails to recognize the importance of sports in society. Apart from giving the country a sense of national pride, sports plays a crucial role in contributing to social change. It can uplift and unify. Countries that have winning teams and consistently produce champions often have a greater sense of purpose and direction. A case in point is Iraq’s unlikely win in the 2007 Asian Cup, which showed how a national football team could spark a rare source of shared joy in an otherwise sectarian, war-weary nation. According to former Iraq coach Jorvan Viera, his team never mixed politics and football even though it was made up of both Sunni and Shiite members.

History has shown the capacity of sport to contribute to social change and strengthen societies. It has changed individuals’ lives and, more importantly, contributed to and facilitated larger social change within and across societies. Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport is very important for building character because when you’re involved in sport, your individual character comes out, your determination, your ability to be part of the team and the acceptance of the collective effort is extremely important in developing your country as well as patriotism.”

Moreover, in a diverse country like Indonesia, the possibilities that exist within sports are those that can bridge the diversity cultures of our nation. Sports can be used as a tool to foster social capital through building relationships, networking and making connections in order to strengthen our solidarity as a nation. Take our national football team as an example. We have Boas Solossa and Ricardo Salampessy from Papua, Bambang Pamungkas from Java, Saktiawan Sinaga from Sumatra and Syamsul Chaeruddin from Sulawesi. Even though they come from different cultures and societies across the archipelago, they don a uniform that symbolizes unity. This shows that sports has a profound role in nation building.

Sports is indeed about connection. Whether we are fans or coaches or players, most of us engage in sports with other people. In a number of ways, sports has long been an agent for social change. Our Sport Law, which states that sports is a tool to be used to strengthen our solidarity and unity, is no more than empty rhetoric without any action from the government.

It is time to move on from the heartbreaking defeat suffered by our football teams and other poor performances. The government needs to act to change these sad facts. The first items on the to-do list: please recognize that sports can be used as an agent for social change and a means for increasing national solidarity. Then increase the budget for sports development and build sufficient training camps in all regions in order to groom potential athletes at an early age. The bottom line is we need qualified people running our sports organizations.

The possibilities of sports as an agent for social change are encapsulated in the words of Kenyan athlete Kip Keino, a former Olympian: “I believe that sport is one of the tools that can unite the country. Sport is something different from fighting in war and it can make a difference. We can change this world by using sport as a tool.”

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