The trend has landed on the wrong side of the law as it has drawn police crackdowns for attracting on-spot betting.
Night running has become all the rage in Indonesia. It is being traced back to the boredom brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it having pushed young people to find alternatives to casual night outs.
From early August of this year, an increasing number of young Indonesians are hitting the streets barefoot to compete in nightlong running competitions.
The winner either takes home the memories of loud cheers and clapping, or a financial prize, ranging from $40-60 (Rp 700.000- Rp 900.000).
The money comes through on-spot betting: runners who take the first spot get their cut.
Since the Indonesian law prohibits any kind of gambling, the entire scene has now come under police scrutiny.
For 20-year-old Agung Ramadhan, running on Jakarta’s empty streets is addictive and is popular because it can be remunerative, too.
“I used to play futsal. But all the futsal fields are now closed, so I joined the street race,” Ramadhan said.
First, Ramadhan became a curious spectator, watching teenagers and young men charge down the streets in a bid to outpace each other.
The events began to adopt a carnival-like look, except for it being an all-male event, with people shouting, whistling, clapping, sneering and making all sorts of noises in the dead of the night.
After a month, or so, Ramadhan had graduated from being a fencesitter to a runner, participating in at least 15 races. He says he “won most of them.”
His fans now call him “tiger”.
The police raid
The rules of the race are quite simple. Each race is set for two runners competing barefoot on a 100-metre-long city street. The races start from 12am and go on until dawn.
Within a few weeks, the race became the talk of the town, especially in the country’s most populated islands of Java and Sumatra.
How do people remain updated about the next race venue? Instagram: A handle named info.balaplari100m has over 12,000 followers, and it regularly uploads a variety of feeds ranging from a runner’s profile to the changing locations of the races.
One of its managers is a 17-year-old named Randy, who wishes to withhold his surname for security reasons. He is keen to stress that their main aim is to encourage street racing “for fun,” not for gambling reasons.
“We are not responsible if any of the runners are arrested by the police,” Randy told TRT World.
Randy and his fellow managers initially reproached those runners who engaged in betting, but after a certain point, they gave up, as betting became the main crowd-pulling element in the race.
It is hard, says Randy, for them to control how things pan out on the streets and are now just focussing on promoting quality runners.
He and his team receive direct messages from runners on their Instagram handle. Many of them, Randy says, want to promote their profiles by attaching photos and stats revealing their body type, stamina, status of their lungs and details about their smoking habits.
But the police have started clamping down on the races around the Great Jakarta Area. The racers are also facing hostility from residents since the competitions become loud and boisterous and tend to violate social distancing measures.
The law abiding race
On a recent race night, Faisal Raja, a 17-year-old runner from South Tangerang, had to flee after winning his very first race. Soon after he crossed the finishing line, he found himself and others chased by a police car. Several men were arrested on the spot, leaving Raja in panic.
Although he won $33 (Rp 500.000), he gave up on the prospect of participating in future races. With the prize money, he bought his friends food and drinks.
“I am afraid because the police now could target us for engaging in what they see as gambling,” Raja said.
Concerned about falling foul of the law, Randy plans to promote the race along legal margins.
His first step will be to get rid of people who engage in on-spot betting by naming and shaming them on their Instagram handle. He and his fellow managers are also keen to move the event off the streets and bring it to the running tracks.
The runners would need to pay for the registration and the money generated from it will be used to cover the logistical costs, including cash rewards for the winners. The plan however cannot take off because of coronavirus restrictions in the Great Jakarta area.
“We will make it come true, maybe after the pandemic,” Randy said.