Distance no issue for badminton-mad Indonesian fans | Olympics News

Jakarta, Indonesia – On Saturday morning, when Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu became the first Indonesian women’s doubles team to reach a badminton final at the Olympics, the two women’s joy echoed in a nearly empty arena.

With spectators banned from most Olympic venues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, none of the usual “IN-DO-NE-SIA!” Chants or loud clap of thunder that usually accompanies players’ victories.

But thousands of kilometers from the stadium, in their homeland, Indonesia’s legion of badminton fans were ecstatic.

Among them was Cindy Susanti, 33, a photographer who got up early to watch every single badminton match at the Olympics.

From her apartment in North Jakarta, Susanti screamed with delight as Polii and Rahayu clinched an emphatic straight-set win: 21-19 and 21-17.

“There were people under my housing unit who also watched the game. I could hear their screams from here”, laughed Susanti: “They shouted IN-DO-NE-SIA!”

Badminton has a large following in the Asia Pacific region and Indonesia has long been known as one of the giants of the game, known not only for its talented players but also for the passion of its fans. a devotion untarnished even in the midst of a devastating pandemic.

Apryani Rahayu of Indonesia in action in the doubles semifinals. Badminton players must be agile and athletic [Lintao Zhang/Pool via Reuters]

Susanti has loved the game since she was a child. She remembers that many students brought racquets and shuttlecocks to school and played during physical education classes and during breaks.

“I went to my neighbor’s house to watch the games because they had a color TV. Mine was still black and white,” she recalled, adding that she would try not to miss a single tournament. Every year since living in Jakarta, she visits the Istora Indoor Stadium, the country’s top sports venue, to watch the Indonesia Open.

wins and misses

Of course, being a fan isn’t without its disappointments.

On the same Saturday that the Indonesian women’s duo made history, Cindy also watched as experienced men’s doubles Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan lost to Malaysians Aaron Chia and Wooi Yik Soh.

“There are times when our national teams don’t win as expected, but I will always be there for them,” she said. “I will always be a proud supporter.”

The nation won its first two gold medals in badminton – women’s and men’s singles – at the 1992 Barcelona Games, when badminton became an Olympic event for the first time.

Most of Indonesia’s Olympic glory stems from the sport, which is dominated by countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Only 13 of 116 medals awarded at the tournament went to non-Asian athletes.

“Badminton can make Indonesia known around the world,” Broto Happy, spokesman for the Indonesian Badminton Federation (PBSI) told Al Jazeera.

Happy, who was a senior sports journalist before joining PBSI, says the Indonesian badminton team is a source of national pride.

He remembers the first decisive victory when the badminton team won the Thomas Cup, the most prestigious badminton tournament, in Singapore in 1958, just 13 years after independence. To date, Indonesia has recorded the most Thomas Cup victories with 13 victories. Behind is China with nine wins.

Indonesia has also won multiple titles at the All England Championships, the oldest badminton tournament in the world, where it ranks fourth in terms of total wins with 48 titles, behind China with 85, Denmark with 88 and England with 189.

“In our country, badminton is the only sport that has a national training center,” Happy said. “We also have dormitories. This allowed our badminton players to train there all year round without interruption. Even during a pandemic. They just had to focus on their training.”

Players from Asian countries have long dominated elite badminton. The top three in women’s singles at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics came from China, Taiwan and India [Leonhard Foeger/Reuters]

Happy attributes Asia’s love of badminton to its accessibility and reputation as a sport that can be played by anyone, anywhere.

“When I was a kid, I could play it in front of my house,” he said. “Sometimes people play in the small alley. Imagine it’s tennis, you need a bigger court, better ground and more expensive tools. But with badminton, when shuttlecocks wore out, kids could still play it,” he said.

Happy says he believes it also allows Asian athletes to play to their strengths.

“This sport doesn’t need anyone to be big or powerful. It’s okay if they’re small as long as they’re agile and athletic,” he said.

passion of the crowd

Indonesia’s badminton lovers often devote all their remaining money to watching and supporting their national heroes.

As a student in East Java, Arofah saved her pocket money so she could travel to Jakarta with her two best friends to see badminton competitions in person, sharing a hotel room to make the trip more affordable.

One of the 25-year-old’s most memorable trips led to the Total Badminton World Federation (BWF) in 2015.

“One day we spent more than 12 hours at Istora Stadium watching this world-class tournament,” said Arofah. “It was very worth it. Nothing beats the feeling of standing there and singing the Indonesian national anthem with the whole stadium. I will never forget that.”

Indonesians’ undying love of badminton is not without heartbreak. Fans have witnessed the ups and downs of the Indonesia national team, including in 2012 when the national team failed to bring home any medals from the London Olympics.

Badminton fans fight over a racket thrown by Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat after losing to India’s Anup Sridhar at the 2007 Badminton World Championships in Kuala Lumpur [File: Zainal Abd Halim/Reuters]

Indonesian fans fill the stadium for the men’s badminton doubles at the Asian Games held in Jakarta in 2018 [File: Bagus Indahono/EPA]

Djoko Pekik Irianto, a sports expert from Yogyakarta State University, says it is important for Indonesia to ensure younger players move up the ranks to ensure the country’s continued international success.

“Our nation’s men’s doubles is dominated by our old players like Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan,” said Irianto.

Ahsan and Hendra are now 33 and 36 years old respectively. As of Tuesday, they are second in the BWF world rankings in men’s doubles behind 30-year-old Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and 24-year-old Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, also from Indonesia.

“It’s even harder for women [to see new talents]. So the problem lies in the regeneration. We need to find more talent in the regions to find talent that can replace athletes like Liliyana Natsir and others,” he said.

Irianto said he hopes Indonesia can continue to develop its players to continue the success of the 1990s.

“We hope that Indonesia can bring back those glory days. So when people think of Indonesia, they will think of badminton,” Irianto said.

Meanwhile, at her home in North Sumatra, Arofah is looking forward to Monday’s finals.

Polii and Rahayu are back on the court and aiming for gold while Anthony Sinisuka Ginting is fighting for bronze in the men’s singles.

The sleeping baby on her left arm, her cell phone in the other and headphones in her ears, Arofah will be watching. She just hopes they can do it again in person soon.

“I hope this pandemic will be over soon,” she said. “We miss calling IN-DO-NE-SIA for our national team in Istora.”

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