The ancient city of Palembang is about to get an upgrade. The capital of a 7th century Malay empire will become Asia’s capital of sport, when it hosts the Asian Games in 2018.

“Please come and see Jakabaring Sport City,” says Alex Noerdin, Governor of South Sumatra province in Indonesia. It is, he promises, “the most prestigious, the most convenient sport city in the world.”

His government, alongside the federal government, has invested heavily in infrastructure to build a smart city that can host athletes from across the continent. “Our objective is for a glorious South Sumatra, with a better – maybe not the best – public service for all the people.” After all, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

The vision

The complex will be a “green sport city,” he pledges, with solar cell power, a plan for hydrogen powered buses, potable water and waste disposal treatment. The city has also built a Light Railway, the second in the nation, which runs 24km from the airport to the stadium and will open in February.

This forms the Governor’s plan to target zero emissions from the local element of the Asian Games. It is part of a 25-year project signed with the UK, which includes building low-carbon energy and transport infrastructure, and research partnerships with British institutes.

The province’s main harbour has been named a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), giving it special tax and investment privileges from the federal government. In keeping with the President’s maritime vision, there are plans for a deep water seaport and will see 300,000 workers employed in maritime exports.

Attracting businesses

As with many Indonesian provinces, the Governor wants to simplify regulations. It is currently difficult for businesses to get a permit, but he wants to speed up the process. “We have to minimise the very long process to get the permit,” he says.

Civil servants will be trained, and monitored to ensure that there are no obstacles – including graft – that slowdown the process. This year, the Asian Competitiveness Institute ranked South Sumatra 24th out of 33 provinces for its overall competitiveness, and 20th for its business environment.

South Sumatra wants to be a pleasant place for business people to visit. “The atmosphere must be conducive,” he says. This means the Governor has a big focus on public safety. “There is no conflict between ethnic or religious groups,” he says. “This is the most attractive point for investors.”

The Governor’s term expires next year, and he hopes to sit back and “enjoy my life”. But, before then, the spotlight is on Palembang. Let the Games begin.