European football fans who regularly watch professional matches in European stadiums are used to football-specific stadiums. These grounds are purposely built to exclusively hold football matches. A key characteristic of this type of venue is the absence of a running track around the field. This ensures a relatively shorter distance between the fans and the pitch, which in turn should lead to a more authentic football ambiance. However, the number of such grounds in Indonesia is very limited in contrast to Europe. This can be considered rather odd given the sport’s huge popularity and intense passion among the citizens. In fact, the lintasan atletik along with the colorful painting (warna warni) of the stands is a widespread phenomenon in Indonesia’s sports infrastructure landscape that tends to make stadiums very similar to each other. Let’s explore the underlying factors behind these unique aspects of Indonesian football culture.
The (local) owners decide
First, one must understand the financial advantages of owning a football-specific stadium. Most European football clubs actively participate in the construction and maintenance process of (football-only) stadiums. They (partially or fully) own the stadium complex and this large investment entails many lucrative (long-term) benefits, such as: total control over stadium use, renaming rights and higher revenues from ticket sales. It is not only beneficial from a business point of view, but also from a sports perspective. A privately-owned stadium may be modified to accommodate the interests of the football club that houses it.
Two well-known examples are the removal of an athletics track and the customization of the seating pattern to the club’s colors. As such, the management attempts to create a unique football environment in which fans can identify themselves with the home ground. Meanwhile in Indonesia, there are no top-flight teams that possess a stadium, let alone one exclusively for football. All teams rent their home base from the owner, which is the local government. Since clubs do not have the legal rights to unilaterally modify or maintain the site, they are extremely dependent on their relationship with the authorities and their efforts.
The decision-making lies in the hands of civil servants and they are obligated to pursue public interests. In this case, a stadium acts as public property, providing the officials with the opportunity to host a wide variety of events, such as athletic tournaments and commercial activities. They must keep the venue available for parties other than professional football clubs and the inclusion of an athletics track and neutral (colorful) stands are therefore inevitable. In the long run, the running tracks (both dirt and rubber surfaces) and colorful stands became a characteristic themselves in Indonesian football. It also unintentionally made many Indonesian stadiums look very similar to each other, as shown in the images.
Moreover, the addition of a running track also acts indirectly as a security measure. Fanaticism of the crowd can unfortunately escalate into crowd troubles, and the relatively greater distance between the supporters and the field should theoretically improve the safety of the players and officials by making it more difficult for hooligans to enter the pitch or throw objects. The local owners also realize this concern which further motivates them to include a lintasan atletik inside the stadium.
City pride at stake
Indonesian football clubs need to be creative if they want to make their home base a more football-friendly environment. Club representatives attempt to maintain close ties with local authorities in the hope of gaining the desired level of support. They emphasize the importance of a successful professional club and a renowned sports stadium in enhancing the cohesion among local communities, the exposure of the city and the corresponding local pride.
The majority of the football teams namely trace their origins in representing their city or municipality. The names of traditional clubs even partly include the name of the hometown, for example Persija stands for Persatuan Sepakbola Indonesia Jakarta (Indonesian Football Association of Jakarta). In this way, teams are connected to a certain place and they have always to keep the honor of the city high when they play. Furthermore, there is a common financial interest, as football clubs are usually the stadium’s highest paid tenants. It can generate a significant amount of income for local authorities, ranging from Rp. 25 million (Maguwoharjo, Sleman, Yogyakarta) to 450 million (Gelora Bung Karno, Jakarta) per match day. That is why a fruitful connection between club and government is mutually beneficial.
It could eventually lead to various advantages, like the long-term exploitation of the site (like the Kapten I Wayan Dipta-stadium of Bali United), a regular maintenance of the pitch and fewer bureaucratic issues. However, football clubs will ultimately have to adhere to the decisions of the local owners if they obstruct public interests. The multipurpose use of the site remains key. All in all, from one perspective, football clubs are incentivized to utilize state-owned stadiums, but are unable to turn it to their exclusive permanent home ground.
An alternative to this trend is to purchase or build a private stadium elsewhere, but this is especially challenging due to the substantial costs in terms of construction expenses (large supporter base means big stadiums), property issues and complex administrative procedures. Stadiums are typically located or built in strategic places in or around the city, which cause hefty price tags. Even if it is financially feasible to build a new site, a club has to consult many internal and external actors (from street vendors to private landowners) involved in the process, further discouraging club owners from taking the difficult step.
Does it impact the atmosphere inside the stadiums?
As a consequence, local football supporters have to accept this unfavorable situation. The lintasan atletik is especially unpleasant, as it hampers the field of view for supporters during matches. Ideally, they prefer having football-only grounds similar to other football-loving cultures in Europe and South America. However, true passion can overcome many things. Indonesian football culture is unique in many ways, such as the ability of fans to turn any (government-owned) stadium into their (temporary) home base including the corresponding atmosphere. This can be illustrated by fans of popular clubs, like Persib (Si Jalak Harupat, Siliwangi and Gelora Bandung Lautan Api) and Persija (Gelora Bung Karno, Patriot and Wibawa Mukti).
These musafir teams (clubs without regular home stadium) have used multiple ‘home venues’ in recent years due to various reasons. The distances between these different home grounds can be very demanding to reach. To help each other out, fans regularly gather before the game and travel together in shared cars, buses and motorcycles. They bring their banners, sing chants and indefinitely support their beloved team. The fans bring their well-known intense and passionate football atmosphere with them wherever they go, as they can accurately replicate this in all locations they visit. The passion and love for Indonesian club football is not bound to a specific place, making the stadium location and its features irrelevant factors for the atmosphere.
Given this incredible sense of passion and attention for football, there has been an increasing demand from fans in recent years to improve sports facilities throughout the archipelago. In addition, the granting of hosting rights for various international sports events also pressures the (local) government to undertake more action. It set in motion a trend in Indonesia in which sports infrastructure is being rapidly modernized. This involves not only complete overhauls of existing, multi-use stadiums, such as the GBK in Jakarta and Manahan in Solo, but also includes the construction of new (sometimes football-specific) venues in less densely populated cities, like the 40.000-seated Batakan Stadium in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan and the similarly sized Lukas Enembe Stadium in Jayapura, Papua. Read more about our top ten Indonesian football stadiums here.
Actually, the most impressive stadium yet to open is the Jakarta International Stadium, which is expected to be completed in late 2021. It is planned to be the largest football-only venue in Southeast Asia (capacity of 82.000 seats) with a retractable roof, three FIFA-certified hybrid turf pitches (one main and two training fields) and an innovative, eco-friendly smart operating system. These grounds follow the latest international standards regarding stadium-quality as well, for example by adopting a more comprehensive set of security measures and utilizing a color gradation scheme instead of the simple warna warni(colored) stands. These initiatives are very welcome to further develop Indonesian football, especially if it intends to catch up with neighbors Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. They have also heavily invested in their sports infrastructure in the last couple of years, significantly improving their level of football along with it.
To conclude, the lintasan atletik and warna warni are a sports phenomenon home to Indonesia. The main reason for their prevalent appearance lies in the public function of the government-owned stadiums, which make up the vast majority of all football venues in the archipelago. These grounds are obligated to remain neutral and available to other users other than football clubs. However, this less football-friendly environment does not affect the distinct football culture for which Indonesia is known. The passionate supporters provide the same exciting ambiance in all stadiums they go, with or without the aforementioned characteristics. The future looks promising too, as ongoing infrastructure projects aim to take Indonesian football to the next level. With this, also slowly disappears this particular phenomenon. It is disappointing from one perspective, as it is a unique feature of the sports culture in Indonesia. Domestic fans will undeniably prefer European-styled stadiums, but overseas football enthusiasts appreciate the authenticity and positive vibes these traditional sites deliver. Therefore, all fans should embrace and appreciate the current venues for as long as they exist.