Too Much Ado About Prostitution

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Much of the media attention on the recent Asian Games in Jakarta focused on four Japanese athletes being sent home for using the services of prostitutes.

As conservatism becomes increasingly politically fashionable in Indonesia, it was inevitable there would be a backlash over the fact that some Japanese basketballers had visited a red-light area.

Major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup, are often reported to cause to a rise in prostitution because of the influx of journalists, spectators, officials and athletes. In Jakarta and Palembang (co-host of the 2018 Asian Games), visiting athletes were encouraged to enjoy the local culture, but that did not extend to sampling the seedy nightlife.

 

Ghana’s Star Import

The Asian Games officially opened on August 18, but the basketball competition started on August 14, as there were dozens of games to get through before the finals on September 1.

On Thursday evening, August 16, Japan defeated Qatar 82-71 in their Group C game at Jakarta’s Bung Karno Stadium.

The most interesting thing about the game should have been that almost half of Qatar’s points were scored by a single player: Congolese-born Tanguy Ngombo (34). Qatar, like other oil-rich Middle Eastern nations, has been accused of recruiting athletes from poor African countries to boost its international sporting prowess. For example, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Qatar fielded a record-high team of 39 athletes, at least 23 of them born outside the country.

Tanguy has played in Qatar since 2006. In 2011, he was drafted by the US National Basketball Association, only to be dropped after reports he had lied about his age, making him ineligible for the draft.

In the game against Japan, he scored an impressive 36 points, the most of any player that night. Qatar was even leading 23-17 at the end of the first quarter, before Japan bounced back. After their victory, the Japanese team returned to the Athletes Village in Kemayoran district. Their next game would not be until August 22 against Hong Kong, so there was plenty of time for rest and relaxation.

 

Down the Blok

Four members of the Japanese team – Yuya Nagayoshi (27), Takuya Hashimoto (23), Takuma Sato (23) and Keita Imamura (22) – decided to celebrate. Wearing their team uniforms, they left the village at about 10pm and dined at a Japanese restaurant in Blok M, South Jakarta. Blok M has long been notorious for its nightlife, comprising a series of pick-up bars on Jalan Palatehan and a string of Japanese and Korean restaurants and karaoke bars in an area nicknamed Little Tokyo between Jalan Melawai and Blok M Square mall.

After dinner and drinks, the four basketballers were reportedly accosted by some friendly local women. Along came an expatriate Japanese man. Happy to serve as an interpreter, he led the men to an establishment where prostitutes were waiting for customers. The players had some more drinks and then, after their new friend negotiated for them, each took a woman to a nearby hotel and paid Rp1.2 million (US$82) for sex. They returned to the Athletes Village at about 2.30am Friday.

According to local media accounts, a reporter for Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, who was coincidentally in the red-light area, probably just in search of a late-night game of chess, spotted the Japanese athletes and dobbed them in.

On Sunday, August 19, Japanese officials expelled the four for violating the squad’s code of ethics. Early the next morning, they were sent them home at their own expense. The four then held a press conference in Tokyo to apologise for bringing “disgrace” to their country. Unlike Australia’s crybaby cheating cricketers, the Japanese bowed for 20 seconds to show their contrition. “I deeply apologise for our careless act that has brought disgrace on not only basketball fans but also all of the Japanese people,” said Takuma Sato.

Japan Basketball Association chief Yuko Mitsuya said she was awaiting a report from lawyers before deciding how the four should be formally punished.

Yasuhiro Yamashita, the head of the Japanese delegation to the Asian Games, said he felt ashamed and would provide guidance to the other Japanese athletes.

Although the Japanese basketball squad was cut from 12 players to eight, the team continued in the Asian Games. They definitely missed Takuya Hashimoto, who scored 22 points in the opening game, and Keita Imamura, who scored 14 points, whereas Yuya Nagayoshi scored only three points and Takuma Sato scored none. On August 22, the undermanned Japanese team defeated Hong Kong.

 

Police on the Beat

South Jakarta Police chief Indra Jafar said his officers tried to find out whether any prostitution involving athletes had occurred at Blok M’s Gran Mahakam Hotel, where some foreign sports officials and journalists stayed during the Asian Games.

He said it was difficult for police to investigate, as they had not received any official reports from the Asian Games Organising Committee or from officials of the Japanese contingent. Despite that, he said police were also investigating Japanese restaurants that might be used to offer the services of prostitutes.

Jakarta Public Order Agency head Yani Wahyu Purwoko said his officers had increased surveillance in Blok M, carrying out raids on August 20 and arresting six suspected sex workers. The women were taken to a state-run institution for “social rehabilitation”. Being a prostitute is not a crime, although pimping is illegal. Ominously, Yani warned there would be further raids, although he admitted officers sometimes found it difficult to identify prostitutes.

South Jakarta Public Order Agency head Ujang Harmawan claimed the Japanese athletes might have hired the sex workers via an online app, as prostitution is no longer overt in Blok M’s Little Tokyo. He said people should not assume that sexily dressed women in the area are prostitutes.

One of the most worrying reactions came from a protest group called the Alliance for Pulling the Mandate (ATM), which since 2015 has demanded that legislators revoke President Joko Widodo’s mandate to rule, claiming he has failed the country.

ATM coordinator Anies Daut said Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan had failed to keep his campaign promise to eradicate prostitution from Jakarta, thus letting down the Muslim protesters who helped to propel him to power.

He said if the city administration fails to shut down locations used for the facilitation of prostitution “like the Blok M area … and other places”, then his group will conduct “sweeping” raids of red-light areas and dismantle them.

Golkar Party legislator Hetifah Sjaifudian , who is deputy chairwoman of parliament’s Commission X on sport, culture and education, demanded firm action against anyone offering prostitution services to visiting athletes.

She praised Japan’s “exemplary” decision to send the four players back home. She urged all athletes in the Asian Games to remain focused on their events and seek “more positive entertainment” such as touring Jakarta’s culinary, shopping, historic and cultural attractions.

Hetifah also suggested facilities could be provided for the psychological recovery of athletes who might be experiencing boredom, depression or anxiety.

In Blok M, locals said there was an increase in business during the Asian Games and many of the visitors wore jackets and shirts with the Games logo.

Athletes should be held to high standards of sportsmanship and must not touch performance-enhancing drugs, but they should not be vilified for their private lives. Gold medals all round for self-righteousness.

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Kenneth Yeung is a Jakarta-based editor.