Thousands of Indonesian students have been pulled from their school classes to do the unthinkable – cheer for bitter rivals Malaysia and other nations during the Southeast Asian Games … State news agency Antara reported that Palembang’s Office of Education and Sport (Disdikpora) had recruited students from 28 junior and senior high schools in the provincial capital of South Sumatra to cheer for competing nations who might otherwise have been short of support.

Extracted from Jakarta Globe, 15 November 2011

Talk about a beat up! The Indonesia-Malaysia rivalry is very real. But the kids this article is talking about are given a t-shirt, lunch and a little pocket money, and scream for Indonesia as much as their assigned team. Contrary to the tone of the article – particularly the headline – people here seem embarrassed by perceptions of anti-Malaysian vitriol. After a security guard had asked a traveling contingent of Malaysian supporters not to bang their drum at the sepak takraw, a young college graduate told me this was unfair since the Indonesian fans would make much more noise anyway. At the gymnastics, an Antara journalist from Palembang told me to look out for the “not polite” jeering of Malaysian gymnasts. But it did not eventuate. When a Malaysian gymnast fell from the balance beam, there was only sympathy.

As the teachers interviewed for the linked story say, the cheer squads get the local kids involved. As much as anyone, they soak up and maybe typify the so-called spirit of the games – which includes learning about the other countries taking part. After the opening ceremony I asked a cheer squad member what flag it was that she was carrying. “Cambodia”, she grinned. Which other countries were at the games? “11 countries”, she and her friends replied, and together they proceeded to list them. “Malaysia, Timor Leste, Brunei”, they began, starting closest to home. “Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines”, they continued. It’s hard to begrudge the cheer squad members of anything, or the people who permit them to be at the SEA Games. Ironically, the Antara journalist bemoaned that the media is only interested in controversy. Despite her own part in it, as a Palembang person she wished only that the media could support the SEA Games for reasons of “national pride” – just as in Laos in 2009, she reflected!