The UAE delegation parade during the opening ceremony at Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta on Saturday. Image Credit: AFP

Jakarta: One of the oldest sporting venues in Asia — the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium — burst into life as the curtains rose on the 18th Asian Games yesterday.

The $55 million opening ceremony provided the perfect setting for what is expected to be grand 15 days of non-stop entertaining sporting action.

Hearts will beat to the rhythm of national anthems, new records will be set and everlasting bonds of friendship and camaraderie formed.

Memories — both happy and sad — will stay with the athletes forever.

The Indonesian President Joko Widodo, 57, popularly known as ‘Jokowi’ set the tone with a video showing him riding a bike through the bylanes of Jakarta and entering the stadium doing stunts. Though the act was hilarious and left the spectators in splits, it triggered enough excitement for the rest of the evening.

The ceremony stage was a towering mountain of 120-meter length, 30-meter width and 26-meter height featuring waterfall, various Indonesian plants and flowers. A total of 4,000 dancers performed to the beat of an orchestra comprising of hundred musicians.

The concert displayed the diversity of Indonesian culture, natural resources, ethnic diversity of a country of about 17,508 islands, as reflected in the tournament’s slogan ‘Energy of Asia’.

Carrying the UAE flag into the arena was 18-year-old Emirati fencer Latifa Al Hosani. A beaming Latifa, who will be leading UAE’s challenge in the fencing foil individual and team, told Gulf News earlier: “It a great honour for me to carry our national flag and I can’t ask for more. I would like to thank everyone for making it possible for me. Hopefully, it will inspire everyone to win more glory here at the Games. We all will be giving our best.”

UAE’s Chef de mission Ahmad Al Tayeb was of the view that the move to give Latifa the honour of carrying the UAE flag was based on the role that women is playing in the UAE society.

“Women are now in all fields — from business to politics and are playing a lead role in shaping up our nation. They need to be recognised for their effort and also inspired. With Latifa carrying the flag many girls out there will be inspired to take up sports and that’s what we are looking at. The UAE government want to give all the possible support to women in UAE to achieve their goals,” said Al Tayeb, who also marched into the stadium with athletes from the Fencing team.

“With events being split between Jakarta and Palembang, all the athletes couldn’t make it to the opening ceremony and we could only get the fencing team. Our rowing and shooting teams have landed in Palembang. The weightlifting and archery teams will be joining the fencing team here soon,” revealed Al Tayeb.

The UAE delegation attending the ceremony also included Humaid Al Qattami, VP of the UAE NOC and Head of the UAE delegation, Abdul Malik Jani, VP of the UAE Sports Delegation, Abdul Mohsen Al Dosari, Secretary General of the General Sports Authority, Brigadier Talal Al Shinqeeti, Secretary General of the NOC and Mohammad Bin Darwish, Executive Director of the NOC.

Indonesia had put on a grand show when they first hosted the event in 1962, finishing second to Japan with 21 gold medal medals, but since then the world’s third-largest democracy after India and the US with a population of about 260 million has not been able to build on that success.

This time, they seemed to be hungrier than ever to get their record back on track and that was evident when more than 900 athletes marched into the Games cauldron amidst the deafening roar of their fans. It’s the largest number ever from a single country.

Stealing the show was Indonesian dangdut singer Via Vallen, who showcased the country’s highly popular musical genre of dangdut — a mixture of Mallay, Indian and Arabia fusion that made the audience to dance along. The crowd were also left captivated by Indonesian singer Anggun Cipta Sasmi along with pop music acts such as Tulus and Raisa as well as the trio of Gamaliel, Audrey and Cantika (GAC).