Jakarta: A presidential dig at their traffic woes, a colourful display of their cultural heritage and a message for world peace – Indonesia mixed it up all for a vibrant and slick opening ceremony for the 18th Asian Games here Saturday.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo was shown taking a motorcycle to the stadium after his convoy was stuck in one of the city’s infamous traffic jams.
The footage, played out on the stadium’s giant screen, had Widodo grabbing hold of a motorbike to whiz past the stranded vehicles and take the narrow lanes to make the stadium in time.
A helmet-clad biker, presented to be the President, eventually appeared at the stadium before Widodo revealed himself at the dignitaries’ stands amid loud cheers from the crowd.
“We are all here to celebrate diversity, we are all here to celebrate differences, we are all here to celebrate humanity,” Organising Committee president Erick Thohir said in his speech.
Young javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, the flag- bearer, led the Indian contingent with players arriving in blue suits, smiling and with small flags in their hands, waving to the crowd.
Much to the relief of Kuwait athletes, they were allowed to participate in the athletes’ parade under their own flag after International Olympic Committee (IOC) lifted their suspension, just 48 hours ago. The government interference had forced IOC to suspend their NOC.
The loudest cheers, however, were reserved for the host nation, who arrived last, led by swimmer Gede Siman Sudartawa and basketball player Arki Wisnu.
Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah then addressed the packed stadium and was delighted that his own country Kuwait participated under country’s flag. He also appreciated the harmony between the two Korean nations who marched together.
Widodo then declared the Games Open.
In Palembang, which will host shooting and tennis disciplines among others, the athletes watched the opening ceremony on a giant screen, installed at the main football arena.
A team of visual artists from Jakarta and Bandung, West Java transformed the stadium’s front area into a huge stage, designed to look like a lush mountain surrounded by the country’s unique plants and flowers.
The ceremony opened with the traditional ‘Saman’ dance, which has been listed by UNESCO in its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The dance has its origins in the Gayo ethnic community of the Aceh province.
Performed by over 2,200 school children, it welcomed the athletes from the region for a sporting extravaganza which is considered second to only Olympics in participation even though the countries involved stand at 45.
The musical extravaganza’s highlight on the night was Indonesian singer Anggun Cipta Sasmi, whose popularity graph has been on the rise in the country.
Legendary Indonesian athletes, who have been carrying the torch across the country, brought it to its final destination during the ceremony which is believed to have cost the organisers USD 55 million.
Former shuttler Susi Susanti, who won the women’s singles gold for Indonesia at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, lit the cauldron which marked the opening of the Games amid the trademark fireworks.