In a glittering ceremony, Indonesia declares the 18th Asian Games open

Two Koreas march together as Asian Games burst into life


JAKARTA: Delegates watch a fireworks display during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Asian Games at the Gelora Bung Karno main stadium in Jakarta yesterday. – AFP

JAKARTA: Indonesia president Joko Widodo declared the 18th Asian Games open in a glittering ceremony yesterday, launching what promises to be a frenetic fortnight of breathless sporting action featuring the best of the continent’s athletes. Some 13,000 athletes will compete in 40 sports and 67 disciplines, including new additions such as bridge, jet skiing and roller skating in the biggest multi-sport extravaganza outside the Olympics. “I hereby declare the 18th Asian Games 2018 open,” Widodo said in front of a 50,000-plus crowd at the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium.

Esports debuts as an official demonstration sport in Indonesia, which volunteered to host the Games after Vietnam pulled out in 2014 because of financial concerns. North and South Korea marched together at the opening ceremony and will field joint teams in several events. Kuwait will participate under their own flag a couple of days after the International Olympic Committee lifted their ban. The Games, which conclude on Sept 2, are the first co-hosted by two cities with Palembang on the island of Sumatra acting as venue for some sports along with the capital Jakarta.

Two Koreas march
Meanwhile, North and South Korea marched together in a stirring display of unity as the Asian Games, one of the world’s biggest sports events, opened in a blaze of color in Jakarta yesterday. South Korean women’s basketball player Lim Yung-hui and North Korean footballer Ju Kyong-chol jointly held the Korean Unification flag aloft as they led the athletes out to an ovation from the packed crowd.

It is the second such symbolic gesture this year by the two Koreas, who also walked together at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony – an event that heralded an unprecedented warming of ties. The North and South, still technically at war, are joining forces in women’s basketball, canoeing and rowing during the 40-sport, two-week regional Olympics in the Indonesian capital and Palembang, a port city on Sumatra island. South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Ryong-nam, watching from the VIP seats, rose together holding hands and beaming as the Korean athletes marched.

The ceremony opened with a skit purportedly showing President Joko Widodo doing stunts on a motorbike in Jakarta’s streets before riding into the Gelora Bung Karno stadium, to roars from the crowd. About 1,500 dancers in traditional dress then performed a tightly choreographed routine before Afghanistan led the athletes’ parade into the stadium. There were huge cheers when the two Koreas, whose athletes together number about 1,000, marched into the stadium together wearing pristine white and blue uniforms.

‘You can feel proud’
Widodo was then seen dancing in his seat as Indonesian singer Via Vallen took to the stage, before the stadium fell silent to honor the victims of the recent Lombok earthquake. “You can feel proud of your home country Indonesia,” said Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, president of the Olympic Council of Asia, before Widodo declared the Games open. Indonesian badminton great Susi Susanti, the women’s singles Olympic champion in 1992, lit the Games cauldron and the ceremony closed with a noisy music performance and spectacular fireworks. It provided a vibrant start to the Games, whose build-up has been dogged by logistical headaches and security fears after Indonesia suffered its deadliest terror attack in a decade in May.

The sprawling archipelago has also been grappling with its latest earthquake disaster after strong tremors in Lombok, an eastern island, left more than 400 people dead. Indonesia, a country of about 270 million, stepped in to host the Games at short notice after Vietnam pulled out, citing the event’s eye-watering costs. Indonesia has a poor track record in hosting multi-sports events — the 2011 Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang suffered serious corruption problems and delays, and two people died in a stadium stampede.

Rights group Amnesty International said at least 31 people were killed in a “shoot first and ask questions later” police crackdown on petty crime. But officials say all venues are ready for competition and tournament-related problems so far have been relatively minor, from the ticket website crashing to misspelt words on signs. About 18,000 athletes and officials from 45 Asian countries will be at the Asiad, organizers said, looking to make their mark across a range of sports from swimming to sepak takraw and bridge. The Asian Games encompass nearly the full Olympic program and are considered the pinnacle by many participating nations, for whom Olympic success often proves elusive.- Agencies


This article was published on 18/08/2018