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Sports festival offers hope to Indonesia’s Papua province

The National Games seemed to have put aside the image of the volatile situation in Papua

A national sports event in Indonesia’s Papua province this week brought respite to a territory that has been plagued by a separatist insurgency in recents years.

The National Games, which runs until October 15 in the provincial capital Jayapura, is held once every four years and was scheduled to take place in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic.

“[The event] has become a real and great blessing for Papuans,” said Franciscan priest Hieronymus Lebi, a native of Papua.

He said it is the first time that Papua has been selected to host the National Games that is attended by thousands of people from Indonesia’s 34 provinces.

“It is an experience of unexpected things, a great blessing for the Papuan,” he said, adding in jest that only in Papua can an ordinary citizen stop a motorcade of the president.

Papua won the right to host the games in 2014, outbidding Bali and Aceh provinces. A total of 7,039 athletes and officials are expected to be part of this year’s games.

Papua and West Papua are two provinces in the easternmost territory of Indonesia that have been witness to years of violence brought about by an armed separatist insurgency and tribal conflicts.

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The opening of the games on October 2, however, seemed to have put aside the image of the volatile situation.

“My feelings and yours will be likely the same,” Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo told the crowd.

“We have something both in common, our common impression is that Lukas Enembe Stadium is one of the best sports facilities in Asia-Pacific,” he said.

The new stadium is the venue of this year’s games.

Sister Marycen Kuayo DSY, a Papuan from Painai in Nabire District, said the sports event is a new step that is “slowly changing” the course of Papua’s social life.

She noted the development projects initiated by the central government in recent years and implemented by Jokowi’s administration.

“One can see that something new is now happening in Papua,” she said. “There are lots of new things (and) public facilities are being established and developed,” said the nun.

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