Jakarta – After chairing a Cabinet ministers meeting on July 13, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said the 20th National Games (PON) in Papua would go ahead as scheduled from Oct. 2 to 15. The subsequent National Paralympic Games are then to be held from Nov. 2 to 15.
The government postponed the two sporting events last year over COVID-19 concerns – although it didn't seem too concerned when it pushed for regional elections in 270 regions last December.
The President's decision to allow the PON to go ahead was based on good intentions, such as giving an opportunity and pride to Papuan people to host a national sports event, a luxury that eludes many other regions. But at what cost?
As in 2020, Papua today is still not free of the deadly disease and it may remain that way for the foreseeable future given the province's poor testing, tracing and treatment capacity and very low vaccination rate. Therefore, we call on the government to once again delay the event until we can flatten the transmission curve of the coronavirus. The PON will only turn into a dangerous game to play.
The President should listen to Mimika Regent Eltinus Omaleng, who plans to send an official letter to the head of state to ask for the PON's rescheduling because the regency, the mining site of PT Freeport, now is preoccupied with a rising number of COVID-19 cases The local government is also facing shortages of oxygen, medicines and patient beds.
Papua Governor Lukas Enembe has shared the same concerns and will officially request a delay to the Games.
The central government needs to listen to the local leaders, because they know very well the development on the ground. Youth and Sports Minister Zainuddin Amali is among the staunchest proponents of the PON in Papua, saying all sports venues and equipment would be 100 percent ready for the Games next month. Despite the minister's confidence, however, it will be the Papuan leaders and people who will have to bear the brunt of all consequences if Jakarta insists the show must go on.
Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto and National Police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo have also pledged their commitment to safety and security of all participants during the PON and Paralympic Games. But how about the threat of the deadly disease?
According to the original plan, the PON will be held in Jayapura city, Jayapura regency, Mimika regency and Merauke regency. The four-yearly event will feature 37 sports and 6,400 athletes plus 3,500 officials from 34 provinces across the country. The Paralympics will be held in Jayapura city and Jayapura regency, featuring 1,935 athletes.
With more than 12,000 people gathering, the risk of the Games becoming a new COVID-19 cluster should not be disregarded, even if the government bans spectators from all sports venues, and all participating athletes and officials are vaccinated before the PON begin.
Papua can host the PON once we can rein in the pandemic. The President should not let unnecessary victims fall simply because he wants to show to the world the development progress in Papua. This is a matter of life in very real terms.