Sports Events, Nation Building and City Politics in Indonesia with Friederike Trotier

| 00:00:02 Speaker 1 | This is the Nordic Asia podcast.

| 00:00:08 P Desatova | Welcome to the Nordic Asia Podcast, a collaboration sharing expertise on Asia across the Nordic region. I am Petra Desatova, a postdoctoral researcher at the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies in Copenhagen. It is my great pleasure today to introduce Friederike Trotier, an assistant professor in comparative development and cultural studies at the University of Passau. Welcome to the podcast, Friederike.

| 00:00:31 F Trotier | Thank you for having me, Petra.

| 00:00:33 P Desatova | So Friederike's research interests concentrate on sports, urban geography and mobility in Southeast Asia. But today we are actually going to specifically talk about her latest book published by NIAS Press called 'Nation, City, Arena: Sports Events, Nation Building and City Politics in Indonesia.' So, first of all, Friederike, congratulations on your book. It's just been published by NIAS Press. So this is an amazing achievement. Before we delve a little bit deeper. I would like to first ask you, what was your inspiration behind this book? And actually, how did you become interested in the topic of sports, which plays a major role in your new book?

| 00:01:17 F Trotier | I would actually like to start with a second question. So how did I come up being interested in sports? Actually, sports have always been part of my life. So as a hobby, I did gymnastics as a kid and then playing football and table tennis and so on. So quite a common thing to do. But there was never really a relation to my studies. So when I studied Southeast Asia, this was a totally different thing. And then at one point I had my master's degree and I was reading a paper on heroes in Indonesia and leafing through a book on Indonesian national heroes. And I thought, how come there's no athlete included in this official list of heroes in Indonesia? And looking at the German society or other European societies, you would think of football stars, etc. as heroes and but that I had this feeling about this is something I would really like to think about and to do research on, not just about athletes or about heroes, but really what is the role of sports in Indonesia, what is already available. So I started reading and very quickly I realized, well, actually, that's hardly anything in English and in academic literature. So I thought this is something I would really like to research. And this became a research project. And so this is, of course, also what inspired me then to develop this research and to write a book about it. So it's basically a book as a follow up of my PhD thesis. And researching sports also means it's a lot more than just sports or competitions. It's about all these things that surround sports. So it's about different developments in a society. It's about political decisions. It's about nation building, it's about place competition, about city politics. And this was really fascinating even throughout the process. And the next step was then the interest in sports events.

| 00:03:35 F Trotier | So I decided that these events, they have such so many interesting aspects, especially in this urban context and also my personal fascination for the Olympics. So that has always been around. And when I read literature about Indonesia and sports, there was a little bit on the events in the 1960s. So I thought, OK, this is something I can build on. But my research and then at the time when this all happened in 2013, Indonesia hosted the Islamic Solidarity Games and they drew my attention. I was so curious about this event. And so I could have this as a starting point and then developed my project out of this. And to write a book out of my research was also to kind of share my experience now the topic of sports and to make it maybe also more public in Southeast Asian studies, also in sports studies to draw attention to Indonesia in Southeast Asia, which is, of course, also not very visible. And maybe last point, Indonesia hosted the 2018 Asian Games. And so this was also an encouragement for me to write this book now, also kind of in the aftermath of this mega event taking place in Indonesia.

| 00:05:04 P Desatova | Yes, I do recall reading your book introduction as it opens, where you actually describe this experience of being there in 2018 and being a participant in some ways, but also researcher during this big sports event. But how did you actually research it? You get off the plane in your destination country and then what? What do you do? How do you go about doing your research and where there any particular challenges? Because, as you said, obviously sports events are not something that you can have plenty of literature on. And they are in some ways not happening every day. So these big events, they happen once in a while. There might be some documentations about them, but, you know, how did you go about it?

| 00:05:50 F Trotier | And I saw my approach was situated in area studies. So, of course, I had a lot of background Indonesian studies. I had learned the language. And then the first challenge was still like, how do I tackle such a big topic such as sports and sports events? How do I come up with a good research question? So even though saying, OK, I want to study events doesn't really mean that I have a proper angle yet and what to focus on, maybe also what not to include in the study. And this kind of inductive way of doing the research was also related to my own background in area studies and interdisciplinary studies. So I couldn't really say, OK, I'm an historian and I just look at it this way. And so I kind of try to follow these events and go there and experience what is going on. And then also the questions came up and developed and that also meant I had several detours and looking in one direction and then another direction. But I was also a bit lucky. As I said earlier, Indonesia was awarded the 2018 Asian Games. And of course, in this way I could somehow follow different events that took place this time of my research. Another big challenge was to get into this aspect of sports sociology or sports history. I have no background in studying sports, so I had to start from scratch to read books and to get to know the concepts. And I also went to several conferences and that helped me a lot also to network, but also to know what other people study when they focus on sports events. So I went a bit outside of the South East Asia box and that really helped me to find my questions and to relate it to urban geography. What I did in the end with this focus on place marketing. So that was how I tried to tackle this. Another challenge was definitely always having this very exotic topic. But I went in Southeast Asian studies. It was a bit surprising for people to say, OK, I'm doing my research on sports and the same. On the other hand, when I went to this sports conferences, it seemed especially with Western scholars or in the context of a conference taking place in Europe, Southeast Asia was definitely not on the map. It was always me like making a case for looking at a Southeast Asian countries at these conferences or vice versa. Talking about sports and context of Southeast Asia.

| 00:08:55 P Desatova | You are right to say there that Southeast Asia, compared to, let's say, other Asian countries or, you know, the Big East Asian countries like Japan or China doesn't probably really resonate with people as much when it comes to to talking about sports and sports events. And I can imagine how difficult it must have been to actually persuade some of these academics at the conferences that you actually make sense to be looking at Indonesia as well in this particular context. But when you were in the country itself, so when you were in Indonesia and you were going around these events and attending them, did you have any particular problem with actually getting access? Because I guess in in a sense it would be and correct me if I'm wrong, but I would assume it would be quite uncommon for a Westerner to be trying to attend these events as well. So in a way, you would be yourself a bit of an outlier in these events. Did you have any access problems or did you also have to explain to the people around you what you're doing there you're actually interested in their sports events?

| 00:09:55 F Trotier | My first experience was actually that sport was often a door opener, so it was actually quite easy to talk with people also in the beginning, quite randomly. You know, just to see what people say about an event or just talking to people, also go to the opening ceremony, let's say, and this was especially the case in Palembang, and it was also quite easy to get in touch with the Indonesian Sports Council that is situated and basically each province and city. So there's also the national one. But I was able to meet and to conduct interviews with officials from the Sports Council in Palembang, and they helped me quite a lot. And this made it in a way easy to get access also to the sports brochures that you often have for the events. And I was also able to talk with the governor of South Sumatra so Palembang is the capital of South Sumatra. And while he didn't have much time but, you know, at least to have a short interview was quite a big opportunity for me. But there was still a big challenge, which I would say, as I also describe it in the book, Palembang has this success story related to the sports events. And I had to be careful to see what is also behind this narrative and what is maybe a downside of these developments. And at one point, I even had the feeling I have to be careful not to be part of this narrative or to you not to be used as a part of the success story, saying, look, there's even a scholar from abroad coming to do research on this. So I had to reflect on that, what is my own position? And I also tried to include several interviews of people who were more critical about these events.

| 00:12:05 P Desatova | Yes, I can relate to that kind of experience because my own research was on nation branding. And I think you could in that sense, meet with similar kind of people who get overly enthusiastic about these things. And then you feel like you need someone with a more critical view, especially if you research or if you talk to people within that branding circuit, then I think obviously you do make some connections to city marketing in that relationship and using these events. But before we delve into that particular topic a bit further, I would like to ask you, why did you actually end up choosing Palembang and not Jakarta? I mean, that would be an obvious question, right? So pretty sure I'm not the first one to ask you that. But but you know, why not the capital? Why why have you chosen Palembang as your main site of study?

| 00:12:49 F Trotier | I chose Palembang in a way, as a main point of my argument. So this is what I say in the book. It's about the developments in Indonesia, especially in post Suharto, Indonesia, where we have these processes of democratization and especially decentralization. So decision making processes are not monopolized anymore in Jakarta and there are new opportunities in the regions and especially in these secondary cities. That means these cities are often the capitals of provinces. And there's a lot of decision making power now in these places. They are actors that take certain initiatives. And this is what I want to show and discuss in my book. And this is why Palembang may make such a great case. Nevertheless, of course, I do talk about Jakarta quite a lot, and it's especially in the part where I discuss the events in the Sukarno and Suharto times. So that means in the 60s and then between the 70s and 90s. But to make it more obvious or very clear that there has been this these transformations going on in Indonesia, it's just kind of great for me as a researcher to see what is going on in the city of Palembang and then in a way to compare it to Jakarta and also to say that there is relationship between Palembang and Jakarta and there's this ongoing negotiation, so which is the sports city, who is going to be a host or a co-host? Negotiations about competitions, opening closing ceremonies, et cetera. So this is why I have Palembang as my case study. But somehow in relation to Jakarta.

| 00:14:49 P Desatova | That's very interesting and I was wondering, could you maybe give us an example of a particular sports event that would somehow represent this idea of reflecting maybe the broader socio-economic and political transitions in Indonesia during the time that you studied, which I believe is from 1962 till 2018, right?

| 00:15:10 F Trotier | So it's probably better then to have two events, one prior to 1998 and one after. So what came to my mind now is the Southeast Asian Games. So this is an event taking place every two years in one Southeast Asian country and Indonesia joined these Southeast Asian Games in the 1970s, though that was during the new order. And before that, this event was basically just for those countries of mainland Southeast Asia in a way connected to ideas of anti-communism. And when Indonesia had the transition from Sukarno to Suharto, it was of great interest to join this event. And so when Indonesia hosted the Southeast Asian Games for the first time in 1979, there was no question whatsoever that Jakarta would be the host city. Of course, this was also related that Jakarta had a big stadium and the proper venues already from the Sukarno time. But it was also it was so obvious because all the decision making power was in Jakarta. The country was very centralized. And so there was no other option in a way to have this event somewhere else and all follow up Southeast Asian Games taking place in Indonesia, up to 1998 were in Jakarta. And then in 2011, the event returned to Indonesia. And from the beginning it was clear from the decision makers they want to have more than one host city. They want to have not just Jakarta. And then negotiations started and so on. And in the end, we had an event that was co-hosted by Jakarta and Palembang and Palembang was even able to be so successful in the negotiations that the ceremonies, the opening and closing ceremonies both took place in Palembang. So the event was actually more associated with Palembang. And so this was really a major shift, I would say, and really reflect development from this very centralized country to a far more decentralized one.

| 00:17:33 P Desatova | That's very interesting. And it's something that is quite a striking example, actually, or a reflection of these political changes and what's been happening in Indonesia politically and the whole transition from very centralized, very sort of autocratic regime into a slowly, more democratically oriented country that's opening up and decentralizing power. How did these games change Palembang as a city?

| 00:18:01 F Trotier | So this is definitely related to what I said, this kind of success story that was in the city related to the events. So we have a movement from small events to big events and from the retrospect, it really looks like a development for the city. So in 2004, Palembang hosted the National Sports Week. So that was still a national event. And then the already mentioned 2011 Southeast Asian Games, the 2013 Islamic Solidarity Games. There was another smaller event, the as the university games and then, of course, co-hosting the 2018 Asian Games. And each event was connected to urban developments. So we have a lot of infrastructure projects and a huge building project of a sports themed zone. So a sports complex that is really situated in one place. And this was a major development in the city. And this also it's not just about this infrastructure. Of course, this also meant that the transportation, for example, got easier and some places were renovated. Clear lake squares were made more attractive. But it was really also about creating a better image for the city. So Palembang had to fight a very negative image of being ugly and dangerous and backward and so on. And there are not many touristic places. There's no beach or something that you could go to and how to attract tourists. And so to improve the image was really part of this whole endeavor to host sports events. And this really changed the city in a way to improve the image, also to kind of boost the pride of local citizens and to put. On the map, so to make it known internationally and that definitely also changed something in the city and not to forget, of course, the local actors that were interested in having these events and who profited from them. And the most important figure is the South Sumatran governor. He was in office from 2008 to 2018, and it was his personal project to change Palembang and to have this via hosting sports events. And it definitely boosted his own career, but also really improved a lot in the city and made it nationally known or changed the image and maybe boosted this kind of what I call a remapping. So to put it on the international map, but also to change perspectives in the city.

| 00:21:03 P Desatova | It seems very much like the sports events where the driving force for the city marketing efforts that the local governors have engaged in over the years. What are the negative effects? Because now we've just been talking about the nice and the pretty and the fact how, you know, sports perhaps have enabled Palembang to get a better image, better reputation and also people inside, but also out of the city. Think about it in a very different terms. But what could you see from from the other side? What is still the ugly or the not so good about this whole set-up?

| 00:21:38 F Trotier | So the negative aspects were actually quite typical in a way. When you look at sports events also in the international context, what are criticisms for, let's say, hosting the Olympic Games? It's about power and decision making. So in our case, we have a clear top down decision making process for all these events. So we have one key figure and decisions are often taken then by the governor and there's not much discussion going on and citizens are not really included in any kind of decision making processes. And in addition to that, there's always the question, where does the money come from and where does it go? And in this way, we can relate these sports events and Palembang to what is called a 'project' project in Indonesia, which is often sort of government funded events and naturally sports events is related to national funds and Palembang received a lot of funds, although often quite late and not always the full amount. And there has been controversies about that. But of course, there is money going to the city. And then it's the question, which company gets the money for what and which politicians take cuts and so on. So there have been cases of corruption and this is always a big danger of the events. Another aspect is when we look at the city marketing strategy, it's also a question how successful is it to be based on events? It's still a single event in a way, and you always have to struggle to attract more events. Otherwise, how do you maintain the venues? Where do you get the money to continue having competitions on this sports complex? And in this way, it seems a bit shortsighted to only focus on sports events. And this makes it a bit dangerous, especially in this way that the governor was such a key figure. He had to step down because it was the end of his time in office and there was no long term city plan that would organize how to maintain the sports complex, how to continue this strategy. And now I think people in Palembang wonder and I wonder how this will continue or maybe the Asian Games were already so big that nothing else can maybe come afterwards.

| 00:24:30 P Desatova | Right. So do you think that perhaps it's fair to say that there might be some need for reconsideration of their city marketing strategy, of moving forward and maybe thinking how to make a more sustainable long term plan for the city?

| 00:24:45 F Trotier | Yes, exactly. Also how to include the local population, maybe to build on it, and also to have sports as a main theme in the city, but to make it broader in a way and to use the venues in more different ways and maybe to try to have smaller events as well, I think this was going on, but the question is how far this is successful, but yet to diversify and to build on the strategy that already exists, but not to stay too focused on on one aspect in this way?

| 00:25:24 P Desatova | Definitely. Unfortunately, we are nearing the end of our time for this podcast. But this is a really, really interesting topic. And it's a fascinating book that you have written on this topic. I would definitely recommend to everybody who is listening to actually get hold of your book and read the book in full. But if you were to dissect a main message from your book about the sports, about Indonesia, but also about something that could be taken out of that context and implied perhaps to other Asian countries or even beyond, what would that be?

| 00:25:57 F Trotier | So the first aspect I would like to emphasize is that sports events often reflect larger developments and changes within a society. Sometimes they even foreshadow new events or any transitions. And this makes them so interesting and events are very visible. That also means they are arenas of performance and representation and competition and this nature of visibility and the symbolic power in these events make them very attractive and very valuable for different types of stakeholders and actors, as we see in my example of Indonesia, actors of the national level, of the city level. And this is something that makes it so fascinating that all these different facets and you have this aspect of negotiation. And I think this could also be the case for other events of popular culture to see these negotiations going on between the national and maybe different sub-national levels. And the third aspect is also that these events are not just on a national level, but it's international. It's about getting in touch with other countries or to be visible and to have this kind of place competition, but also the events themselves, they travel. Asian Games also travel from Indonesia then to China and then to Japan and so on. So this is also something I would like to follow up on what this is maybe to encourage somebody to do research on these sports events that travel throughout the world or throughout the continent or a region, and that makes some very fascinating research object.

| 00:28:00 P Desatova | Well, that was a very nice message, a call to action, really at the end of at the end of the podcast. It's really important to not look at the sports events as just something purely related to sport and purely about sport, but also to look at it's something that is part of the broader society and that is part of some sort of power struggles as well between the sub-national and national levels. I think that's very important and very, very good point for everybody really to consider maybe next time that there is a big or even a small sports event somewhere that they happen to be. Thank you so much for joining the podcast today. Thank you for finding time and and doing this online, although it would have been much nicer if we could do it in person. But yeah, thank you. And hopefully we will be able to do this at some point again. And follow up on your future research plans.

| 00:28:50 F Trotier | Thank you very much.

| 00:28:51 P Desatova | Thank you for joining the Nordic Asia podcast showcasing Nordic collaboration in studying Asia. My name is Petra Desatova, a postdoctoral researcher at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Copenhagen and have been talking today to Friederike Trotier, an assistant professor in comparative development and culture studies at the University of Passau. Thank you.

| 00:29:16 Speaker 1 | You have been listening to the Nordic Asia podcast.