Philip Barker ©ITG

The Asian Games have returned to Jakarta this summer and opened yesterday in the very Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium built to hold that event back in 1962.

They were the fourth Games in a series begun in 1951, but the road to Jakarta was anything but easy.

The vote which awarded the 1962 Games was actually taken six years ago before the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo.

Originally there had been speculation that Tehran and Kuala Lumpur might join the race but these ideas came to nothing.

By the time the Asian Games Federation (AGF) met, there was a real fear that there might be no candidates at all.

Their Executive Board suggested Taiwan as a host "in case there was no other country to hold the Games.". In the light of subsequent events, it was an ironic choice.

Eventually an Indonesian candidacy, was brought forwards. Even here, there was confusion because was a telegram had failed to arrive.

"WJ" Lautumeten, secretary of Indonesia’s National Olympic Committee (NOC), joined Prince Alam to finally deliver a formal bid document which was received by Fumio Takashima, secretary treasurer of the AGF.

"There is a great likelihood that Jakarta would be selected," said Takashima

In fact, Karachi also announced that they were bidding and the vote proved to be a close one. In the final analysis, Jakarta only won by two votes.

The formalities took place immediately before the 1958 Asian Games. Tokyo had decided to bid for the 1964 Olympic Games. With International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Avery Brundage and other members in town, they pulled out all the stops and the Games were an impressive spectacle.

Unfazed ,Indonesian NOC President Raden Maladi promised "an Asian Games equal in size to those of Tokyo" and announced that a stadium to hold 70.000 would be built. They promised that athletes were to be accommodated at a cost of $3 a day.

They even offered advice to the organisers of the 1964 Olympics.

"Indonesia has the answer to the problem facing the Tokyo Olympic Committee," they said. "A centralised complex.’’

The biggest team at the 1962 Asian Games came from hosts Indonesia ©Official Report Jakarta 1962
The biggest team at the 1962 Asian Games came from hosts Indonesia ©Official Report Jakarta 1962

Jakarta’s Games were to benefit from the enthusiastic backing of State President Sukarno.

An initial Organising Committee numbering 49 was set up and the Indonesians did not demur in inviting foreign expertise.

"Good officials are necessary if we want to make the Games successful and we are determined to make them so," said Maladi.

Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev had awarded Sukarno a decoration and soon the Russians would demonstrate their support in more concrete fashion by bankrolling the stadium to the tune of $12.5 million. An Indonesian Government spokesman Rudy Gontha was soon to announce the arrival of three Russian architects who would help the project. It was to be part of a massive complex which formed an impressive centerpiece for the Games.

"A beautiful playing field must also be planned," said organisers so Manila grass was laid .

It was later announced that the Hungarians would provide the electronic scoreboard.

The actual dates were set in stone when the AGF met at the Palazzi di Congresi in Rome, a few days before the 1960 Olympics. They confirmed that the Games would begin on August 24, 1962.

Sukarno remained very "hands on" and later that year made a tour of what was still a building site.

Organisers were dealt a huge blow, though, when, less than a year beforethe Games were due to start, a huge blaze destroyed much of the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium. By a strange coincidence, in June 2018, fire also damaged the Expo centre in Jakarta close to where the combat sports will be held this year.

The damage in 1961 was far more serious and some 3,000 construction workers were drafted in to work round the clock to make sure that all would be ready in time.

Raden Maladi, Indonesia’s Minister of Sport, said: "We do this in the interests of Asia, to show other countries that Asians are capable of memorable things. For this purpose, it is necessary that Asians should be united in friendship and brotherhood."

Organisers were perhaps thinking of the blaze when they circulated a message to the teams as they arrived the following year. "We have an excellent fire brigade in the [Athletes'] Village but it is always better not to take risks," it said. 

In what was claimed as a first for the Asian Games, organisers took out an life insurance policy for competitors, officials and even journalists. This bore Maladi’s signature.

Athletes, officials and even journalists involved at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta were given life insurance by Indonesian organisers in a document signed by the country's Sports Minister ©Official Report Jakarta 1962
Athletes, officials and even journalists involved at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta were given life insurance by Indonesian organisers in a document signed by the country's Sports Minister ©Official Report Jakarta 1962

At the time, Indonesia was locked in a bitter territorial dispute over the Dutch East Indies. Seven months before the Games began a Korean AGF official Dr Lee Sang Bak suggested a change of venue to either 1954 host city Manila or Osaka in Japan.

At the beginning of February, the invitations to compete were sent to all member nations. These were delivered to their respective Embassies in Jakarta "’in accordance with the instructions given by the council of the Asian Games Federation".

They were signed by Latumeten, the honorary Secretary of the Organising Committee, who had helped deliver the bid document back in 1958.

The official grand opening of the Stadium came exactly a month before the Games. President Sukarno described it as a "symbol of Indonesian-Russian cooperation".  It was he said "a national attraction which is far more impressive than any of its kind in any part of the world. It is the result of a dedication of life and a nation’s pride".

"Who among you can say he is not proud of a Stadium such as this?" asked Sukarno.

The ceremony even included a march past of the Indonesian team in full uniform, the lighting of the flame, a gun salute and the release of hundreds of doves. In the days that followed, what was termed a "General Rehearsal" took place. What would nowadays be called a "test event"’ took the form of a five-day national competition held in the complex. Competitors from the Soviet Union were invited to take part.

A Village for the athletes had been built and was dubbed the "Hotel Indonesia". This was supervised by Colonel Achmad Tirtosoediro, a senior officer in the Indonesian Army.

There were to be separate quarters for men and womenIn the words of the organizers, "The Women’s Dormitory rose like a Queen in the Village," it was reported. 

It housed 350 in 18 apartments, each containing three bedrooms a kitchen and sitting room. There were also "two servants" to aid the women athletes. In an age before mobile devices, organisers congratulated themselves that they had provided 22 telephones. The women were not, however, allowed to receive male guests.

The men’s quarters were for 2,500. Built on the same complex, they were separated from the women by an iron fence.

Organisers had paid tribute to the first Asian Games in 1951 with a street called "Jalan New Delhi" leading to the Indian team headquarters.

The Village included a five hectare "Friendship Garden"’ planted with "flowers and shady tropical plants". Some of these had been imported from Brazil. Entertainment included concerts of popular Indonesian music every evening at eight. Every Wednesday and Saturday residents of the Village were "kindly invited to take part in Indonesian social dances".

An information brochure about the Village included a list of the blocks assigned to each nation and at the time of printing, these included Taiwan - now known as Chinese Taipei - to be housed in Sector III with Thailand, South Vietnam, the Philippines and South Korea.

Israel were also listed in Sector V with neighbours including Iran! Pakistan, Brunei, North Borneo and Nepal were also in the same part of the Village.

A group from Japan march in the official Asian Games from the first edition of the event at New Delhi in 1951 ©Official Report Jakarta 1962
A group from Japan march in the official Asian Games from the first edition of the event at New Delhi in 1951 ©Official Report Jakarta 1962

With a week to go before the Games were to begin, there was a further rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony. Coloured flags were used instead of national flagsfor  the competing nations. These included Taiwan and Israel but ominously, perhaps prophetically, they were represented with black banners.

With a week to go before the Games were due to start, the teams of both nations had yet to receive the official document that would allow them to enter the country documents. Games organisers insisted that no exclusion would be made.

"Of course the Organising Committee is inviting all member countries to the Games," said press spokesman Kapto Sunoto. He added ominously, though, "We are not the Government, we are the Organising Committee so I refer you to the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs."

Taiwan’s team leader Yen Cheng Hsing said, "Our team is prepared to leave for Jakarta immediately. If identity cards cannot arrive on time, all we want is a cabled authorization from Jakarta so an airline can issue tickets."

The authorisation never came and Dr Gunson Hoh, the Taiwanese member of the AGF Executive Board, called it "a shameless scheme to keep us out of the Games".

Indonesia had no diplomatic relations with Taiwan at that time and it is thought the Government was responding to promptings from the Peking - Beijing - Government. It was reported that a Chinese radio announcement had described the exclusion of Taiwan was the "correct decision".

The Radio Canton broadcast said Chiang Kai-Shek’s gang has been making "desperate efforts to usurp China’s rightful place in the Asian Games and this has been foiled by the Indonesian people."

The pressure to exclude Israel came from the Middle East.

Israel’s Olympic Committee President Shalom Zysman had even travelled to IOC headquarters in Lausanne to try and resolve the issue. IOC Chancellor Otto Mayer said "this is not our business, it is the business of the Organising Committee who can ask who they like. We can give our patronage to the Games but there is nothing in our rules to say that this means all nations in the area must take part.’"

Zysman had tried to talk to Indonesian Sports Minister Maladi but was told he could not be found. It was reported that a conversation with Organising Committee officials was cut off. Zysman was told later that the line was "out of order". It came as little surprise that Israel cut their losses and withdrew from the Games.

Mayer denied that the IOC had withdrawn patronage and insisted it had not been requested.

Led by its President Lord Burghley, Marquess of Exeter, the IAAF - then known as the International Amateur Athletics Federation - took a harder line withdrew recognition from the track and field events. The International Weightlifting Federation followed suit.

India celebrate their Asian Games gold medal in the football - a victory greeted with boos from local fans unhappy at criticism of their country and Government over their stance on Israel and Taiwan ©Official Report Jakarta 1962
India celebrate their Asian Games gold medal in the football - a victory greeted with boos from local fans unhappy at criticism of their country and Government over their stance on Israel and Taiwan ©Official Report Jakarta 1962

Indian officials were very critical of the Indonesian Government stance.

India’s Guru Dutt Sondhi, a long standing IOC member, vice-resident of the AGF, was unhappy about developments. "The whole affair showed to what extent political considerations interfered with sports activities," he said. 

Sondhi proposed that the title "Asian Games be withdrawn from the meeting in the light of the decisions by the IAAF and Weightlifting Federations".

He added: "I am fighting for a principle and I will uphold it even if I have to resign from sports for the rest of my life."

Although initially supported by Japan and Hong Kong, the idea was not accepted and afterwards Sondhi was targeted by protests.

A leaflet from the Indonesian National Front, Sukarno’s mass political movement was distributed in Jakarta. "We must frustrate Sondhi’s efforts to sabotage the fourth Asian Games," it said. "Sondhi insults President Sukarno and betrays the Indonesian people and Government."

Criticism also came Sondhi’s way from members of the Indonesian Government. The Indian Ambassador Apa Pant described this as "really surprising and shocking".

It was perhaps, little surprise that Sondhi left the country before the end of the Games.

For the Opening Ceremony, a crowd of 120,000 packed into the stands. Afghanistan led the way into the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium, the first of 17 nations to parade. Last of all came a sizeable contingent from Indonesia.

The flame was lit by decathlete Effendi Saleh, who had represented Indonesia at the Far Eastern Games in 1934 .

The official ceremonial Asian Games banner, bearing the insignia and motto "Ever Onward" was paraded in by a group from Tokyo led by Dr Ryotaro Azuma, IOC member in Japan and soon to become Governor of Tokyo .

This was trooped away by the Indonesian navy.

Indonesian badminton player Ferry Sonneville, read the Athletes' Oath during the Games' Opening Ceremony ©Official Report Jakarta 1962
Indonesian badminton player Ferry Sonneville, read the Athletes' Oath during the Games' Opening Ceremony ©Official Report Jakarta 1962

Ferry Sonneville, a member of Indonesia’s Thomas Cup winning badminton team took the Athletes' Oath. At the time his sport was not on the Olympic programme so this was the biggest multi-sport event open to him. He won a bronze medal in the men’s singles as Indonesia dominated competition. Only Malaysia’s victory in the men’s doubles prevented a home clean sweep.

The home fans were delighted by the 100 metres success of Mohammed Sarengat, who added the 110m hurdles title to his haul. In his private life he became a physician and later a sports stadium was built in his honour. Cyclist Hendrick Brock helped win three gold medals for the host nation.

As they had done since the first Games in 1951, the Japanese dominated proceedings but also won gold in sports where they had not previously made their mark. Boxer Kiyoshi Tanabe won bantamweight gold to go with his bronze from the Rome Olympics two years earlier.

India’s Milka Singh continued to reign in the 400m and retained his title from Tokyo 1958.

Indian criticism remained a sensitive issue throughout the Games. India beat Korea in the football final to win the very last gold medal of the Games and, the anthem was played, there were boos from home supporters.

As the Games came to an end, the competing teams were led one last time in by the Tiger Drum and bugle corps.

The Games were formally closed by Sultan Hamengku Buwono XI, President of the AGF. "In the name of the Asian Games Federation, I offer to the President and to the people of Indonesia to the authorities of the city of Jakarta and to the organisers of the Games , our deepest gratitude," he said.

"In accordance with the tradition, I call upon the youth of Asia to assemble in four years in Bangkok, to celebrate there the Asian Games in accordance with the ideals of the Asian Games Federation. May the youth of Asia ever celebrate the Games in the spirit of brotherhood and for the good of humanity.’"

The Indian press reported that their team had left the stadium to a chorus of boos.

In the wake of the Games, the IOC sanctioned Indonesia for their actions in denying entry to Taiwan and Israel.

The following spring, President Sukarno retaliated by announcing a new sporting event - "The Games of New Emerging Forces"  - GANEFO - had an undoubted political edge. They were intended as a retort against the Imperialist Powers.

First staged in October 1963, they featured impressive ceremonies and attracted some 51 nations including the Peoples Republic of China.

What they did not have was the blessing of International Federations or the International Olympic Committee.

Those who took part risked an Olympic ban. Some were indeed prevented from taking part in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Indonesia withdrew from the Olympics because some of their athletes were banned. 

As it turned out ,the GANEFO Games were shortlived. Indonesia duly competed in the 1966 Asian Games and returned to the Olympic Games at Mexico City in 1968.