Thursday, June 28, 2007

Indonesia's stadium finally fixed, now for football

Workers have installed a sleek VIP box, bolted down 88,000 new seats and painted every wall, girder and fence in Indonesia's Soviet-era soccer stadium to prepare it for the final of the Asian Cup. Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno Stadium will host group matches between South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Indonesia along with the July 29 final of the region's most prestigious soccer tournament.

"Everything is ready, new and gleaming, right down to the referees' changing room. We want to be the pride of Asia," John Halmahera, a football official who helped oversee the US$8 million renovations, told AP.

Gelora Bung Karno stadium was built in 1962 to host the Asian Games with money from the former Soviet Union, which was then trying to expand communist influence in Asia.Before the recent renovations, the first in the stadium's history, its official capacity was 100,000, though during big matches an estimated 200,000 reportedly could squeeze into its unnumbered benches. Authorities say that only those with tickets will be now be allowed in. Also banned are the hordes of vendors who used to walk freely in the stands hawking steamed peanuts and fried bean curd. "People may complain, but the new stadium must be safe and clean," said Halmahera. "The supporters must adapt."

"Many people put the team's current problems down to poor management at the country's national soccer association. The organization's current leader, wealthy politician Nurdin Halid, was convicted of corruption in 2005 but kept his role as soccer chief. The coach at the time, former English striker Peter Withe, told a reporter last year of his surprise at having to travel to prison for meetings with Halid, who was released last year," Associated Press commented.

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