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Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi
Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrowi with PB Jaya Raya Ciputra founder and PBSI Chairman Gita Wirjawan are observing badminton facility at Sekolah Bulutangkis (Badminton School) Jaya Raya, Ciputat, South Tangerang, Banten, September 15, 2016. ANTARA FOTO/Muhammad Iqbal
Tuesday, 05 September, 2017 | 16:32 WIB
Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - This past week has been tough on Imam Nahrawi, 44. The youth and sports minister is under criticism for Indonesia's poor performance in the 29th SEA Games held in Malaysia. Indonesia finished fifth at the bi-annual sports event, with 38 golds, 63 silvers, and 90 bronzes. As it turned out, President Joko Widodo's goal of Indonesia winning first place was far-fetched, as the country failed to meet the more modest target of finishing fourth.

Indonesia's Kuala Lumpur SEA Games results are the poorest since Indonesia began participating in the event in 1977. Although Indonesia finished in the same position as at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, this year was the first time the country brought home fewer than 40 gold medals. By contrast, the 2009 SEA Games in Vientiane, Laos, yielded 43 gold medals for Indonesia. "A great number of sports branches we hoped to contribute medals for us weren't in competition," Imam said. 

The National Awakening Party politician cited not only technical problems in the event's organization but also the host country's alleged unfair treatment, which affected the morale of Indonesian athletes, as factors contributing to the failure. Furthermore, it also recently came to his attention that Indonesian athletes were not receiving ideal nutrition and adequate supplements during training. "I have to perform a complete evaluation after seeing the Kuala Lumpur results," he said. 

Imam is not yet ready to give up. During an interview with Tempo's Raymundus Rikang and Sapto Yunus, the minister said he would make up for the SEA Games' losses with a better performance at the Asian Games. To prepare for the quadrennial event to be held in Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2, 2018, Imam has put together a number of breakthrough measures, from an athlete promotion and demotion model to simplifying sports bureaucracy.

Our contingent failed to achieve Indonesia's Kuala Lumpur targets. What happened?

Many sport events we hoped would generate a significant number of medals for us-such as rowing, bridge, wrestling, beach volleyball and women's weightlifting-were not competed at the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games. Because of this, we lost the opportunity to win more medals. I must apologize to the Indonesian public because the target of finishing among the top four was not achieved. God willing, we will redeem (the failure) in the 2018 Asian Games.

Why weren't our key sports included?

SEA Games provides host countries considerable authority to determine sport branches to be competed and the number of competitions. Malaysia, as host, was able to choose sports that would favor their contingent. We also did a similar thing when we hosted in 2011. Unlike the Asian Games and the Olympics, in which all Olympics sports must be contested, this particular event doesn't have established guidelines for selecting sport categories. Besides, the SEA Games is a multi-sport event aimed at fostering solidarity among Southeast Asian countries. We can't really protest.

Why didn't we focus on winning medals in sports branches that are not the host's strong areas? 

Indeed, the government wanted to focus on winning in swimming, athletics, archery and weightlifting. But it would have triggered protests from other disciplines due to perceived favoritism. All athletes feel that their sport has the potential to win. From now on, the government will focus on sending athletes of sports with a large potential for contributing medals. So I apologize to athletes and sports managements who are not yet on our priority list.

Would they still have protested if you were armed with each athlete's achievement history? 

To collect and to review data objectively are huge tasks for the Indonesia Gold Program (Satlak Prima). But, as of now, I'm urging (all) sports managements to accept the performance-based priority policy. I admit that up to this year's SEA Games, we've been accommodating sports that protested and requested to be sent despite their questionable achievements. We ended up finding ways to send them, not using state budget, but funded by their respective sport association. We only helped register them to the local committee.

What was the outcome?

Some sport association managements promised several golds, but their targets were not achieved. On the other hand, we were also forced to send several athletes on condition they bring home two golds, but as it turned out, their results exceeded expectations.

Did Malaysia's alleged unfair treatment really affect the athletes' performances?

Foul play was really obvious in women's takraw. Our athletes received unfair treatment from the referee, who seemed to favor the opposite team. I wasn't the only one who felt it. The managers from other takraw federations also expressed similar suspicion. They empathized and said there was something fishy with the referee's ruling. This nontechnical issue also influenced our contingent's performance.

How do you anticipate similar conditions in future events?

I've asked Satlak Prima to document in detail matches where our teams were unfairly treated by referees. In addition, I've also asked for a comprehensive analysis on whether these misdemeanors (by the referees) had any effect on our medal yield. To be fair, I also want an explanation on measurable branches of sports that did not meet their target. What factors contributed?

Which branches of sport, for example?

Men's weightlifting, for example. Eko Yuli Irawan is an Olympic-caliber athlete and was expected to win a gold medal but failed. Eko got a silver. I only learned later that he wasn't receiving adequate nutrition and supplements.

Why was this only discovered after the event? 

(Imam shrugged his shoulders and lifted his hands). I hope that statement wasn't a manifestation of utter disappointment. But, to be honest, I have to perform a complete evaluation after seeing the Kuala Lumpur results.

How will you resolve the sloppy athlete training?

I will take over athlete training, especially ahead of the 2018 SEA Games. Let there be no more cases like Eko Yuli, who was lacking nutrition, supplements, gear for competing, and opportunities to compete overseas. Neither should training be hampered by a long-winded government bureaucracy.

Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine

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