11 July 2006

Indonesia, the silent achiever in pencak silat

TUESDAY, JULY 11, 2006 - As two giant sporting events, the World Cup soccer competition and the Wimbledon Championships, transfixed the world, Indonesia pocketed 13 gold and five silver medals in the Second UK International Pencak Silat Competition

Ten countries -- Belgium, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Russia, Azerbaijan, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia -- participated in the tournament, which took place at Brunel University's sports center, in Uxbridge, West London, from July 7 to 9

Opened by Indonesia's Ambassador to the UK Marty Natalegawa, the championship attracted only dozens of spectators. But the fact that it was a low-profile event did not discourage the fighters from doing their best and supporting their teams

Indonesia, represented by 16 male and 16 female fighters, was one of the biggest teams and came up with a winner in almost every category of the competition. The medal tally also gave the country the Challenge Cup from Persilat, the pencak silat world governing body

Harriet Zuidland of the Netherlands won the best sportswoman title, while Md Noor Rafili B Md Ramli from Singapore was honored as the best sportsman

Zuidland, who has been practicing pencak silat for five years in her hometown of Groningen, won a gold in weight class F after defeating Suriani Usman of Indonesia. She said the combination of art and sport in pencak silat was the main reason she was attracted to it

Originating in the Indonesian-Malay archipelago, Pencak Silat is competed in two divisions, tanding (fight) and seni (artistic), both of which have been featured at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games

Persilat has been lobbying countries to include the sport in the Olympic Games. Toward this objective, the sport has been recognized as a demonstration sport in the Asian Games

The UK Championships also aims to raise awareness of Pencak Silat as a competitive sport with Olympic potential and to promote the Pencak Silat Federation of the UK (UK-PSF) to national and regional sports bodies

Currently, the UK's sports council has yet to recognize the sport that was once allegedly related to the underworld

Reportedly an Indonesian pendekar (pencak silat fighter) who used to live in the UK made his livelihood by supplying bodyguards and bouncers who practiced pencak silat. The fighter was later told to leave the country due to tax evasion

However, the sport's reputation has since been cleared and currently there is growing interest in the sport, said Aidinal Alrasyid, the head of the UK-PSF

"Singapore, for example, only sent 25 fighters two years ago when we organized this event for the first time, but now they sent 36 fighters," said Alrasyid, who is the grandmaster of the Gerak Ilham pencak silat organization in the UK

Two new countries of Russia and Azerbaijan also sent their fighters to the championships for the first time

Russia sent only two athletes, instead of four as planned, due to financial problems. "A UK visa cost us US$200 per person, and the flight ticket was an additional $800 each," said Valerie V. Mastrovois, the president of the Russian Pencak Silat Federation

However, he said his country had participated in almost all pencak silat championships around the world so far

Mastrovois said currently there were around 205 athletes practicing pencak silat in Moscow. "More people expressed their interest in this martial arts and we have sent some of our fighters to train in Malaysia, Jakarta and Bali," he said

The presence of Nicky Roche, the sports director of the UK Ministry of Sport, Culture and Media at the opening ceremony was also taken as an acknowledgment of the growing presence of this martial art in Britain, which has begun to attract young people from many different ethnic, socioeconomic, religious and cultural backgrounds

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