Indonesia confident on Asian Games preparations, traffic concerns remain

A police officer rides his motorcycle past a countdown clock for the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia is confident over its readiness to host this year's Asian Games, though ensuring athletes and fans can get to venues through Jakarta's traffic-clogged streets remains a challenge, the head of the country's organising committee said.

Erick Thohir, an Indonesian businessman and chairman of Italian soccer club Inter Milan, was brought in to lead the committee in 2015 amid concerns over a ballooning budget and whether some venues would be prepared in time.

"We are confident we can have the Asian games... now the challenge is more on transportation issues," Thohir said in an interview at the committee's Jakarta headquarters as he looked forward to the Aug. 18-Sept. 2 event.

Indonesia's preparations received a thumbs-up from the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) in January following a two-day inspection of facilities for the first staging of the event in two cities, Jakarta and Palembang on Sumatra island.

Even so, challenges surfaced during a dress rehearsal event held last month.

"From the invitation tournament, we have had good feedback about the food, athletes' villages. Complaints still come from the traffic," Thohir added.

Jakarta, consistently ranked as having among the world's worst traffic congestion, is building a subway in the teeming capital. But it will not be ready until 2019, so organisers have proposed closing schools near venues to curb traffic.

Thohir said that toll roads and bus lanes could also be set aside for special use during the Games.

Around 10,000 athletes from 45 nations are expected to compete across 40 sports at the Games.

Indonesia was including combat sports such as jujitsu and pencak silat in the programme in a nod to the popularity of mixed martial arts, said Thohir. Jet ski and paragliding have also been added.

Thohir said the budget for the Games was now "secured" at 6.6 trillion rupiah (345.18 million pounds), down roughly a quarter from an earlier proposed figure.

This had been achieved by postponing plans for an Asian Youth Games, renovating existing venues rather than building new ones, and attracting more sponsorship, he said.

The organising team had also been limited in size to around the 400s rather than the usual thousands for such events, while there would be 13,000 volunteers, he said.

For security, Indonesia would deploy the police and military during the Games, including having on hand the bomb squad and sniper teams, said Army Lieutenant General Muhammad Herindra.

The Southeast Asian country last held the Asian Games in 1962 and Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said it was important for home athletes to perform well. 

"We finished in 17th place in the last Asian Games in Incheon in 2014. We are aiming to get into the top 10, in order to do that we will need at least 16 gold medals," Kalla told reporters on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Damiana; Editing by John O'Brien)

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