PLAYING FOR THE GLORY, NOT THE GAINS © Duncan Graham 2007
Is there a better way to deflect young people from drugs, idleness and dissolute lifestyles?
Johan Wahyudi reckons there's nothing quite like badminton for keeping the kids out of the discos and away from television. It would be good to add to those examples the standard cliché about 'keeping them off the streets'; but sadly that's the only place many can use to whack their shuttlecocks.
"There's a serious lack of facilities," said the badminton legend at his home in Malang. "There aren't enough clubs, funds and sponsors. The government doesn't have enough money."
In 1974 Wahyudi and his partner Tjuntjun won the All England Men's Doubles at London's Wembley Stadium, a feat they repeated in 1975 and again in 1977.
These were the golden years of Indonesian badminton, when a few dedicated youngsters were putting their homeland on the international sporting map.
A photograph at the time shows two strapping blokes holding their trophy and bottles of bubbly, looking just a little feral but quietly proud. No fist waving, no company logos, no tantrums.
They'd just shaken hands with Queen Elizabeth (whose geographical knowledge of Indonesia during the brief chat apparently ended with Bali) and they were the heroes of the Republic.
On their return they were summoned to the home of Adam Malik. The foreign minister later to become vice president commented that when he visited villages few locals knew who he was, while all were familiar with the badminton superstars.
There was a minor slump in trophy counts during the 1980s, but national pride got a boost in the early 1990s. Since then it has been mainly downhill – and the timing seems to match the economic crash.
Wahyudi now scratches his head and wonders where and why it has all gone so wrong. Is it lack of cash or will power?
Last year (06) Indonesia won only 14 titles from 11 of 22 tournaments run by the World Badminton Federation, well eclipsed by China at the All England – the most prestigious event on the shuttler's circuit.
In the Asian Games Indonesia won a gold, silver and two bronze medals. But overall things aren't looking too good for next year's Beijing Olympics, despite lots of rhetoric about planned hard work and new development programs.
Wahyudi was one of the players dubbed the Magnificent Seven by an awestruck media. Their skills on the world's courts during the 1970s gave them the stellar status now enjoyed by TV sinetron (soapie) stars.
They are all still alive: Tjuntjun, Wahyudi's partner for 11 years, Rudy Hartono, (an eight-times All England winner, now in Australia), Liem Swie King, Iie Sumirat, Christian Hadinata (now doubles coordinator for the Indonesian Badminton Association), and Ade Chandra.
"We played for the red and white (Indonesian flag), not for money," said Wahyudi. "The government made us very conscious of our national responsibilities. We were a former colonial country beating our old European masters!
"Yet we were all amateurs getting minimal sponsorship – no money, just clothing, travel, food and accommodation. I had to take time off from my business to compete.
"And we were also playing for the Chinese community in Indonesia which gave us a lot of support."
(Ethnic Chinese have long dominated Indonesian badminton. Scholars overseas have linked Chinese sporting success with improved treatment of the minority during the Soeharto era.)
After their first big wins Adam Malik gave Wahyudi and Tjuntjun Rp 2.5 million each. At the time this was equal to US $1200 – now it's worth less than a quarter of that sum.
Today top prize money for international events can reach US $200,000 (Rp 1.8 trillion).
"I've seen the way other countries nurture their sportspeople with scholarships, prize money and facilities," Wahyudi said. "We have nothing like that. We desperately need big sponsors.
"There was a different attitude back in the 70s. We were absolutely disciplined. There were no government guarantees – we only knew about the flag.
"Players today don't think about the nation. They're arrogant and only consider self. We were proud for our country, not for ourselves. What was the highlight win? All those years were highlights.
"At one stage I was offered US $5,000 (Rp 45 million) to train in Switzerland. On another occasion I could have gone to South Korea where I was promised everything.
"I refused. I wanted to stay in Indonesia and play for Indonesia."
Wahyudi, now a fit 54-year old, started playing badminton when he was six with the encouragement of his father. Though he retired from the international circuit in 1982 he's a regular on the badminton and tennis courts with friends. He has a timber business in Sulawesi.
"Let me give you an example of our determination," he said. "Just before the finals at one All England championship Tjuntjun became sick with back problems and a swollen foot. He was in such pain he wanted to pull out.
"I prayed for him and we met an Indian doctor who gave him an injection. I had to carry him on my back to the court. He found the strength to play and we won. Then he collapsed. He had to go through the airport in a wheelchair.
"The discipline has to be mental and physical. In a healthy body you have a healthy mind.
"Badminton is an intellectual and athletic exercise. You need talent and the ability to concentrate. I think people were fitter in the old days. We should be giving sport a high priority in schools. It's a great alternative to drugs."
(First published in The Jakarta Post 25 January 2007)