Indonesian paper questions Asian Cup preparations

The AFC Asian Cup 2007 will kick off in precisely two weeks but Indonesia's leading English-language newspaper has joined the chorus of regional concern about the four host football association's preparedness for the Asian Football Confederation's prestigous four-yearly event. The four group stages of the tournament will be held in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia with Semi-Finals played in Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur and the Grand Final in Jakarta.

"What we should see right now are hectic preparations in the field. But a reality check shows otherwise," the newspaper observed. "Promotional banners are overshadowed by ubiquitous banners and posters of running gubernatorial candidates at every city corner and in every public place. And the tournament does not appear to be a topic of conversation. The city is gearing up for the direct election for its governor and deputy governor, scheduled for Aug. 8. And Jakartans prefer talking about who they would vote for in the polls. But the election is not a justifiable excuse for a "business as usual" attitude with a major sporting event looming.

"Look at the sports related bodies, for example. The Office of the State Minister for Youth and Sports Affairs and the National Olympic Committee/Indonesia Sports Council (KONI) have taken a backseat and seem preoccupied by their own agendas and projects. In a country that claims to uphold the spirit of mutual help, the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) has been left alone to deal with the enormous task of hosting the international tournament. Worse, PSSI has been distracted by its internal problems as top members of its disciplinary commission are embroiled in an alleged bribery case. Many preparatory works including ticketing, promotion and renovation projects for the stadiums have not been taken care of.

"Indonesia did not win by chance the honor and trust of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to host the Asian Cup. There have been costs paid and sacrifices made in order to win this privilege ... [but] there should be no more sacrifices squandered as the AFC has entrusted Indonesia to host the continent's best soccer players, some of whom play for the world's top-flight clubs in Europe. AFC has done everything possible to make the Asian Cup a success, including canceling English champions Manchester United's visit to Kuala Lumpur while the Asian Cup tournament is underway.

"Indonesia must recognize the AFC's trust in us. The Asian Cup should be our challenge to show the world we have the ability to organize such an event. It requires commitment from all the stake holders, including the community and the government. How the pledge would be manifested is another problem. This big event to be played-out in our front yard is a shot we cannot afford to miss. We could learn about good football and how to manage the sport as a profitable business. It would also be an opportunity to take a lesson from soccer clubs across the country -- clubs which have for years relied on the city for their financing. This may also become an opportunity to find the right formula to improve the performance of our national soccer team -- and at the same time we could learn how this sport can be a money machine. Our chance to win the Cup is remote, but the opportunity to become a good host is open."