North and South Korea will march together at the Asian Games opening ceremony as one of the world’s largest multi-sport competitions gets underway under a cloud of concern over security and pollution on Saturday. The two Koreas will march behind the blue-and-white Korean Unification flag for the second time this year, after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics — an event that heralded an unprecedented warming of ties. The North and South, still technically at war, are also joining forces in women’s basketball, canoeing and rowing during the 40-sport, two-week regional Olympics. The weeks and months leading up to the tournament have been dogged by worries over poor air quality, terrorism and Jakarta’s notorious traffic.
But organisers insist they are ready, and 4,000 dancers and a 100-piece orchestra will get the party started in Jakarta at a ceremony which organisers say will be watched by billions of people across Asia and beyond.
The main Gelora Bung Karno stadium will be transformed into a verdant mountain, organisers say, and Indonesian celebrity singer Anggun Cipta Sasmi will take to the stage.
The Games website says the ceremony will show the world Indonesia is capable of hosting an international event — but the jury is still out.
On Thursday the online ticketing system crashed, just days after the country admitted a series of malfunctions have been plaguing the light rapid transit system in Palembang, which is co-hosting the games with Jakarta.
A brutal police crackdown on petty crime in the run-up to the Games has also caused alarm, with Amnesty International warning at least 31 suspects had been killed under a “shoot first and ask questions later” operation in Jakarta and south Sumatra.
– ‘Once in a lifetime’ –
Just a few hours before the opening on Saturday, national police chief Tito Karnavian visited the GBK stadium, telling journalists that more than 8,000 security officials would be deployed for the ceremony.
“We are giving special attention to security,” he said at the arena, where more than 300 CCTV cameras with facial recognition technology have been installed.
Around 50,000 people are expected inside the stadium, Games organising committee INASGOC said Saturday, adding that tickets — which range in price from to $50-$350 — had sold out.
Indonesian Gunawan Tri Wasisto, who works in finance, said tickets were costly but worth it.
“This is the moment, we are the host. A bit expensive but for a once-in-a-lifetime event, it doesn’t matter,” he told AFP.
Some locals turned up at the stadium on Saturday morning, hours before the 7:00 pm (1200 GMT) start to soak up the atmosphere.
Bani, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, arrived with his wife and two kids, telling AFP he wanted “to feel the euphoria, see the preparations”.
“The people are also involved,” Bani, 36, added. “You can see people are decorating their neighbourhoods with the Games’ logos.”
Jakarta might be stealing the limelight but several thousand athletes, officials and VIPs are also expected at a welcome evening on Saturday staged in the huge Sports City complex of Palembang.
As well as performances by local and international musicians, Jakarta’s opening ceremony will be broadcast live on a huge screen outside the main stadium of the city that will host 13 of the sporting events, including shooting, bowling and beach volleyball.
About 18,000 athletes and officials from 45 Asian countries will be at the Asiad, organisers said, looking to make their mark across a range of sports including bridge, jetski, paragliding and sepak takraw, as well as nearly the full Olympic programme.