Jakarta. Indonesia is aiming for gold in the newly introduced quadrant event in sepak takraw, or kick volleyball, during this year's Asian Games, despite facing a tough challenge from neighboring countries.
The country showed promise in the event during the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia last year, when its women's team, comprised of Florensia Cristy, Dini Mita Sari and the well-known twins Lena and Leni, won a silver medal.
Quadrant involves two teams, or regu, of four players each, instead of the usual three. The event is contested in the women's and men's divisions, with Indonesia preparing to participate in both.
Asry Syam, head coach of the Indonesian sepak takraw team, spoke with the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday (15/08) about their chances in the competition, which will take place in Palembang, South Sumatra, on Aug. 19-31.
"We expect to triumph in the quadrant events, with two gold medals at stake," the 42-year-old coach said by phone.
"Of course, we want the men's and women's quadrant teams to both win gold medals, but the Sports Ministry only expects us to win at least one," he said.
"Our men's and women's teams both have an equal chance to do that; let's see the result later."
There are six gold medals at stake in sepak takraw during this year's Asian Games.
Prominent in Southeast Asia
Sepak takraw was introduced during the 15th century in the Malacca Sultanate, which covered much of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, the Riau Islands and a large part of the northern coast of Sumatra Island.
Southeast Asian countries currently dominate the sport, with Thailand leading the way.
Thailand was the overall winner in sepak takraw with four gold medals, followed by Myanmar with two, during the previous Asian Games in South Korea in 2014. Indonesia only managed to win three bronze medals.
"Thailand will be our main competitor, followed by Vietnam, Myanmar and South Korea," Asry said.
Fifteen countries will compete in sepak takraw at this year's Asian Games this year. This includes Japan and China, which also won bronze medals in 2014.
"The target of one gold medal from sepak takraw is still realistic, because we've been very good in the quadrant event," Asry said. He added that the Indonesian men's team finished in second place in the quadrant event at the recent world championship, which was dominated by Thailand.
However, Indonesia did not win any gold medals in sepak takraw during last year's Southeast Asian Games, while the women's team walked out after a controversial ruling by the referee.
Asry currently coaches 24 sepak takraw athletes who have been in a national training camp since January to prepare for the Asian Games.
The government, through the Ministry of Youth and Sports, not only funds the training camp, but also pays monthly allowances to elite athletes.
However, some of the sepak takraw athletes do not have elite status.
"My players will return to their occupations once the camp is over. Some are government employees and police officers, while some are traditional fish sellers in Gorontalo," Asry said.
"I receive Rp 9.5 million [$649] as a monthly allowance. It's good for me as I have won a silver medal at the Southeast Asian Games, but the rest receive smaller amounts than me," 28-year-old Lena, who is a member of the women's team, told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday.
She said there are only four athletes in the squad receiving the same amount as her and that this is the highest anyone gets.
"I'm a permanent employee at PDAM Indramayu," Lena said, referring to a state-owned regional water utility company in Indramayu, West Java.
However, not all athletes have sustainable incomes and two members of the national squad do not have permanent jobs other than sepak takraw.
"There are two athletes, Herson Muhammad and Abdul Halim, both from Gorontalo, who are not certain of jobs after the camp. Sometimes they sell fish or operate a bentor [traditional motorcycle rickshaw taxi]," Asry said.
"Please tell everyone about this situation. I hope our government will help them," he added.
The government often provides athletes who have won prestigious medals at international events with permanent jobs in the public service.