Impresario
Category: Special Features By : Jeffrey Hutton Read : 97 Date : Thursday, December 07, 2017 - 09:06:49




Entrepreneur Erick Thohir admits he had mixed feelings two years ago when asked to help produce the 18th edition of the regional Asian Games, to be jointly held in Jakarta and Palembang next August. The event is a major organizational challenge, as it is the world’s biggest multi-sports event after the Olympic games. One troubling sign: the Asian Games were in such disarray that there was talk at the time of moving the event from Jakarta to Beijing.

Yet Erick, 47, took the plunge, and became chairman of the Indonesian Asian Games 2018 Organizing Committee (IAGOC) in November 2015. It was tough going, but this August Erick’s luck began to turn. That month, he staged a dazzling ceremony marking the one-year countdown to the start of the games. The event featured President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo shooting an arrow into a bullseye to launch the countdown, as well as entertainment that included K-pop girl-band Girls Generation. “Now I can say that I am more enthusiastic,” says Erick.

There isn’t a moment to lose. The opening day of August 18, 2018 can’t be changed—everything has to be ready by then. “Yes, they have no choice,” says Matthew Kidson, senior executive adviser for the games from the Kuwait-based Olympic Council of Asia. “Every organizing committee wants more time. There are always unforeseen events—but the venues have to be ready at an international standard, and people have to be able to get here.”

Few are better suited for the task than Erick. He is the founder of the local media group Mahaka, but, more importantly, he is the only Indonesian to ever own stakes in international sports teams. He is a shareholder in D.C. United, a U.S. soccer team, and also had bought and sold a stake in the U.S. basketball team Philadelphia 76ers, becoming the first Indonesian to own shares in U.S. sports teams. In 2013, he also bought a 70% stake in Italian football club Inter Milan—also becoming the first Indonesian to control a major European sports team—later selling down his stake to 32% in 2016 to better focus on his Asian Games role (he remains as Inter Milan’s president).

For Erick, the high-profile Asian Games poses risks to his reputation, who is the brother of the equally high-profile billionaire Garibaldi “Boy” Thohir, who runs Adaro Energy, one of the country’s largest coal producers. Until mid 2016, Erick spent about one week a month in Milan. Now he estimates his attention is split 80-20 in favor of the Asian Games. Erick can ill afford to take his eye off the ball. Indonesia has an underwhelming track record in hosting big sporting events. The last attempt came in 2011 for the South East Asia Games, where two died in a stampede during a football final between Indonesia and Malaysia.

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