Game Changers: Jakarta's Two Asian Games

Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno was first opened in 1962 for the fourth Asian Games. (Antara Photo/INASGOC/Jessica Margaretha)

By : Diella Yasmine | on 8:44 PM August 20, 2018
Category : Life & Style, Arts & Culture

Jakarta. The 18th Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang on Aug. 18-Sept. 2 is not the first Asian Games that the Indonesian capital has hosted. 56 years ago, Jakarta also hosted the fourth Asian Games – at that time also known as the Asiad, the second largest multi-sport event after the Olympic Games.

In 1962, Indonesia's first president Sukarno opened the country's first massive stadium, the Gelora Bung Karno (GBK), just in time for the Asian Games. This year, three new key infrastructures in Jakarta were completed just before the game started – the city's first Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, a new velodrome and a certified equestrian center.

The 2018 Asian Games is the first to be held in two cities – Jakarta and Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra. Both cities had been given much-needed makeovers to make them spick and span, and ready for the Games.

In Jakarta, some of the preparation for the Games had attracted criticism from residents – for the massive traffic jams caused by unfinished constructions, for the Jakarta administration ordering its "Orange Troops" of city cleaners to paint amateurish Asian Games murals all over the city and for implementing extended odd-even number plate restrictions on the city's streets, causing confusion to drivers.

Has the city learned anything from hosting the Games the first time in 1962?

A Succession of Firsts

President Sukarno had wanted to prove to the world that Indonesia – an emerging world power after the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung – could also host a successful major sporting event.

A year after the 1962 Asian Games, GBK also hosted the short-lived Games of the New Emerging Forces (Ganefo) – a sporting competition for athletes from mostly newly decolonized countries in Asia and Africa, and Sukarno's counter to the Olympic Games.

Apart from the 110,000-seat GBK, Sukarno also built the city’s first modern hotel – the Hotel Indonesia (now The Kempinski), the four-leaf clover Semanggi highway junction and Televisi Republik Indonesia (TVRI), Indonesia's first national TV station.

In the end, Indonesia came a distant second in the Games after Japan, taking home 11 gold, 12 silver and 28 bronze.

From Kampung to a City

The 1962 Asian Games also helped Jakarta transform from a big kampung into an international city. This involved relocating the residents of four big kampungs in Jakarta – Kampung Senayan, Kampung Petunduan, Kampung Bendungan Udik and Kampung Penjompongan – to Tebet in South Jakarta to build GBK and the sprawling sporting complex around it.

Construction for the complex started in 1958 and finished in 1962, just in time for the Asian Games. It was paid for with a loan from the Soviet Union.

Between 1969 and 2001, or for most of Indonesia's second president Suharto's reign, the stadium was renamed Stadion Utama Senayan to remove any references to his predecessor.

The stadium's original capacity – at 110,000 it was often compared to Brazil's Maracaña – was reduced to 88,000 after it was given a much needed spruce-up for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup.

In 2016, the GBK was closed for an extensive renovation to prepare it for the 2018 Asian Games. Works included the replacement of benches by single seats and an upgrade of facilities. This reduced the stadium's capacity further to 76,000 seats. It was finally reopened in January 2018.

Hotel Indonesia and its traffic circle is still one of Jakarta's most well-known landmarks. Opened in August 1962, just two weeks before the fourth Asian Games, it was the first five-star hotel in Indonesia and one of the first in Southeast Asia.

Right in front of the hotel, in the middle of the traffic circle fountain, stands Patung Selamat Datang ("Welcome Statue"). Facing north to the sea, this statue of a couple holding a flower bouquet and waving their arms – designed by former Jakarta governor and painter Henk Ngantung –  was meant to welcome guests for the 1962 Asian Games.

The hotel was also where the 1962 Games athletes stayed, despite the lack of air conditioners when it was first opened – a personal request from Sukarno. The famously idealistic president reportedly wanted to give the athletes an authentic Indonesian "tropical" experience.

The hotel underwent a total renovation in 2004 and had to be closed for a year.

Televisi Republik Indonesia (TVRI) was established a year before the 1962 Asian Games. It went on air for the first time with a broadcast of the Games' opening ceremony on Aug. 24.

"In just a year, Sukarno built the studios, the famous broadcast tower and bought all the equipment," said Ali Zainal from NgoJak, a community of history buffs who organizes tours of Jakarta landmarks.

"The Asian Games have been a big part of Indonesia's history," Ali said. "Like in 1962, this year’s Asian Games could also be a chance for Indonesia to shine in the world."


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