Published Aug 19, 2018 07:19am

Indonesia welcomes Asia with explosive opening ceremony


JAKARTA: A spectacular pyrotechnic show, including a simulated volcanic eruption, lit up the Jakarta skyline on Saturday night as Indonesia rolled out the red carpet for the continent’s elite athletes in the opening ceremony for the 18th Asian Games.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo made an unorthodox and dramatic entrance to the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, riding a motorbike onto the stage before officially opening Indonesia’s second hosting of the Asiad.

“We are proud, we are honoured by the arrival of the special guests from 45 countries,” Widodo told a crowd of 50,000 packed into the same arena where the 1962 Games were opened. “During the 18th Asian Games we, the nations of Asia, want to show that we are one in brotherhood.”

North, South Korea athletes march together

The North and South Korean athletes illustrated that sentiment at a localised level by marching together under a common flag featuring a map of the divided peninsula.

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 Koreas’ athletes wearing pristine white and blue uniforms -- numbering about 1,000 -- 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.

There was a huge cheer for the Palestine contingent and Kuwait’s team were also able to march after a ban from the Olympic movement, imposed nearly three years ago for government interference in sport, was provisionally lifted on Thursday.

Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah hailed his homeland’s return.

“We are proud that the Kuwaiti athletes after so many years are participating under the Kuwaiti flag ... to complete the 45 flags of all our members,” he said.

The centrepiece of the set was a huge model of a volcano around which 3,600 performers danced in various colourful costumes, entertaining an enthusiastic crowd and the millions watching around the continent on TV.

The climax of the ceremony came when former Olympic badminton champion Susi Susanti carried the Games’ torch to the summit of the volcano and set off a spectacular display of fireworks.

Some 9,000 security personnel stood guard at the stadium, which has previously hosted, among others, Pope John Paul II, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses as well as English Premier League sides such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Security remains a concern in world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, which witnessed suicide attacks claimed by Islamic State in the city of Surabaya in May -- the deadliest attacks in more than a decade.

The organisers have said 100,000 police and military personnel will be on duty to protect the Games, while facial recognition technology will be used at some of the venues.

The colourful two-and-half hour ceremony combined trend with tradition, while also poignantly observing a minute’s silence in memory of the 460 killed in the earthquakes that rocked the resort island of Lombok this month.

Some 13,000 athletes from 45 national Olympic committees will compete in 40 sports and 67 disciplines in the biggest multi-sport extravaganza outside Olympics with the schedule including new events ranging from bridge to roller skating.

Esports debuts as an official demonstration sport in Indonesia, which volunteered to host the Games after Vietnam pulled out in 2014 citing financial concerns. 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.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2018

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