May 30, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Sport in Indonesia

Published: Aug 05, 2018

Andy Fuller

‘All the schools had gone crazy celebrating the coronation: competitions, performances, exhibitions of all of those skills and abilities studied by Europeans – soccer, acrobatics, and softball. And none of this interested me. I didn’t like sports.’

So declares Minke in Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s classic novel, Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind, 1975). Minke’s lack of interest in sports sits in contrast with the vital role played by the PSSI (Persatuan Sepak Bola Seluruh Indonesia) in fomenting nationalist sentiment in the then nascent nation of Indonesia.

Some hundred years on, sport remains a vital cog in the making and remaking not only of the nation, but, also of the different regions and cities throughout Indonesia. Soeratin Sosrosoegondo’s contribution to the founding of the PSSI is commemorated through the holding of the Soeratin Cup, a national competition for players under the age of 18.

While Pramoedya’s classic novels gave little acknowledgement to the role of sport in Indonesia’s cultural, political and social life, other writers have explored its complexities. These include Seno Gumira Ajidarma and Arswendo Atmowiloto (under the pseudonym Titi Nginung). Senos’s football short stories include ‘Death of a Footballer’ (1981) and ‘Sukab Dribbles the Ball’ (1994). Titi Nginung’s novels tell stories about boxing, badminton, football and volleyball. Literary works are further complemented by the ever-expanding number of films which draw on football as a strong narrative component. These films include Garuda di Dadaku (The Garuda on My Chest, 2009), Tendangan Dari Langit (The Strike from the Sky, 2011) and Cahaya dari Timur ( Light from the East, 2014). These films commonly invoke football as a means for articulating nationalist sentiment, while also showing sport’s role in creating and overcoming regional religious conflict.


The upcoming Asian Games in Palembang and Jakarta, starting on 18 August, present a moment to focus our attention on the expression and uses of sport in Indonesia. These Asian Games refer our attention to the Asian Games of another era, when, under Sukarno, the Games were presented as a means of garnering cohesion and co-operation between non-Western countries and present an alternative to the West-centric Olympic Games. The upcoming Games feature the Olympic staples of athletics and boxing, as well as some regional favourites: sepak takraw, pencak silat, kabaddi and kurash. Innovations and curiosities include skateboarding, soft-tennis, sport climbing and bridge.

This edition seeks to bring together a diverse reading of the politics, cultures and practices of sport in Indonesia. Stefan Huebner provides the historical context of the Asian Games in Indonesia with an analysis of the 1962 Games as an occasion for Sukarno’s ‘postcolonial nation-building’. These Games were an opportunity to assert Indonesia’s pride and to shed an image of ‘backwardness’.

Tim Flicker profiles Ana Surjanto, a former Monash University student and footy player with the Krakatoas FC. For Ana, starting to play footy facilitated her social interaction and sense of comfort while in Melbourne. Flicker writes of the cross-cultural dialogues that are generated through playing a new sport. Friederike Trotier explores the role of Indonesia’s National Sports Day as a means of articulating values such as ‘struggle’, ‘perseverance’ and ‘creativity’. For Trotier, this is another indication of how sport is not just a matter of small-talk but how it is used to tell stories through ceremonies which honour both individual athletes and national memory.

Nindia Satiman’s piece on Jakarta’s football team Persija and their supporter group Jakmania, on the other hand, shows how a local, city-based team negotiates its position within the urban politics of the nation’s capital. Further exploring the intersection of football and politics is Fajar Junaedi’s article on Persebaya and their only-recently resolved quarrel with the PSSI (Football Association of Indonesia). The article sheds light on the persistent issue of corruption in Indonesia’s football bureaucracy, while also showing the power and dedication of fans – able to get their club re-instated into the professional league.

In our interview with Ian Wilson, he shares his experiences of learning pencak silat in Yogyakarta and Bandung and the tensions that have evolved through its homogenisation and sportification.


Mega-events have a long history of promising a lot and under-delivering in both the short and long term. They have a habit of displacing the urban poor and creating white elephants in the form of sports stadiums. These Asian Games assert a re-positioning of Palembang on the national stage and Jakarta on the Asian, global stage. Yet, such mega-events make up only a fraction of Indonesia’s sportscape. As Delfi's photo essay in this edition shows, sport exists across the spectrum from games and leisure activities to traditional martial arts that have been subjected to codification and homogenisation. Sport, at its best, is collaborative and playful, while at its worst it becomes yet another cog in the wheel of corrupt bureaucracies in which funds are channelled to political elites. Unsurprisingly, Inside Indonesia values the former, rather than the later.

I hope this edition provides stimulus for further inquiries and reflections on the nature and meaning of sport in Indonesia.

Selamat membaca dan salam olahraga.

Inside Indonesia 133: Jul-Sep 2018

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