Athletes receive military training—in theory for character building that consists of nationalistic awareness and discipline.
THERE was something different about the player candidates of the PSSI U-23 national soccer team, last Wednesday. They were in the field of the Education Center for Special Forces, Batujajar, West Bandung regency, but they were not practicing soccer, instead they were undergoing military training just like soldiers do. Even their camouflaged uniforms complete with numbered helmets were similar to those of Indonesia’s Special Forces.
The training program of the day was an obstacle course, with running, climbing, and even crawling. The participants had to pass through at least 10 wet and dry obstacles in an area twice the size of a soccer field. Before facing various challenges, groups of participants—each consisting of 10—collectively chanted yells, “We are not beavers, we are Asian tigers. Patriots!”
The first challenge was a pond with water reaching waist level, followed by a 5-meter-long ditch. After getting out of the pond, the participants had to crawl through the ditch. Another obstacle was a 3-meter-high flat-surfaced vertical wall. The training ended after the participants passed through a pond with water reaching almost knee level near the finish line.
After successfully overcoming all the obstacles, the participants one by one reported to the recording instructor waiting in a tent. “Patriot, report! The student number 76 has safely completed the land crossing in 16 minutes and 45 seconds. Over,” shouted Irfan Bachdim, a naturalized player.
It was not preparatory training for mandatory military service, but part of the character-building program of the Golden Indonesia Program (Prima) Task Force for the 2011 SEA Games. According to the training commander, Lieutenant-Colonel (Infantry) Richard Tampubolon, the military-style training was needed to build the athletes’ character including nationalistic awareness and discipline. “So that they will not whine and be ready to the face the worst conditions,” said Richard.
The program began Saturday two weeks ago. The agenda for the first week consisted of theory and practice for individuals and groups at the Batujajar base. They spent the following week in the Situ Lembang forest, between the bases of Mount Tangkuban Perahu and Mount Burangrang in West Bandung. “That is the jungle battlefield of the Special Forces.”
On the first day, there were 63 athletes, 25 of whom were squad candidates for the PSSI U-23. Under the open-close system, participants can join later or take leave if they have to play for their clubs in matches. “For sure all SEA Games athletes, both new and those who have won before, have to go through the training,” said the U-23 team coach, Rahmad Darmawan. “The national team just joined recently in the tenth batch due to the recent conflict at the PSSI.”
Prima is a government program aimed at producing top athletes. The program, launched in March 2010 based on Presidential Regulation No. 22/2010, replaces the national training program managed by the National Sports Committee (KONI) and the Top Athletes Program under the auspices of the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry. The character-building education, which is one of its programs, is implemented in collaboration with the Special Forces Command (Kopassus).
Rahmad sees nothing odd with the provision of military training for the players of the national soccer team. For him, it is part of national defense education. “A competition is like a battlefield,” he mused. Meanwhile, the camouflage uniforms are worn to suit the training field and to jack up the fighting spirit.
Rahmad continued that the athletes were enthusiastic. Some who were given leave permission for competition quickly returned. At the beginning, the participants were indeed hesitant due to the strict military style and discipline. Waking at 4am, they have to quickly tidy their beds, shower, pray and do morning exercise before going to class. Activities begin at 5:30am and last till 10pm with breaks for rest, prayers and meals. “There are no holidays,” said Richard.
Kim Kurniawan, a participant from Persema Malang football club, admitted having difficulties at first in rising early and engaging in activities right away. And there is the food. “The food is quite good but we have to eat it quickly,” he said. Kim, however, is used to it now and he already can become a ‘soldier.’
Harun Mahbub, Erick P. Hardi (Bandung)