Clash over Israel costs Indonesia’s right to host FIFA U-20 World Cup

The U-20 fracas between the President and his party could signal a conflict of interest between the two in the lead-up to the 2024 elections, analysts said.

Yerica Lai

Yerica Lai

The Jakarta Post


Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali (right), accompanied by Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) chairman Erick Thohir (left) and Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka (center), inspects the progress of the construction activities of Manahan Stadium in Surakarta, Central Java, on March 12,2023. Manahan Stadium is being prepared as one of the venues for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup's soccer matches in Indonesia.(Antara/Maulana Surya)

March 30, 2023

JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) were at loggerheads on Wednesday over whether the country should allow the Israeli national team to take part in the 2023 U-20 World Cup, a debate rendered null by FIFA’s subsequent decision to revoke Indonesia’s right to host the tournament but which points to deeper divisions within the party ahead of next year’s elections.

The PDI-P insisted that the Israeli team be barred from taking part in the soccer tournament if it was held in Indonesia, arguing that the country did not recognize Israel because of its illegal occupation of Palestine and that this was a cornerstone of Indonesian foreign policy established by the country’s first president, Sukarno.

It then doubled down on its opposition to Israel’s participation after President Jokowi publicly expressed his disagreement with his fellow PDI-P politicians by asserting his government’s intention to host the global soccer event notwithstanding the objections.

“Strengthening our ideology is very important. Don’t, for example, compromise our ideology for the sake of the market. This will not last long,” PDI-P secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto said in a statement on Wednesday “Precisely with [Pancasila] ideology, we are leading the movement of the people of Indonesia and the world.”

Read also: FIFA removes Indonesia as host of U-20

Breaking ranks

Hasto’s statement was released the day after the President said Israeli participation in the U-20 tournament would not affect Indonesia’s longstanding support for Palestine, stressing that politics should be separate from soccer.

“I can assure you that Israel’s participation [would not change] our foreign policy stance toward Palestine, since our support for Palestine has always been solid and strong,” Jokowi said.

“But concerning the U-20 World Cup, [the government] agrees with the Palestinian ambassador to Indonesia that FIFA has its rules, which its members must obey. So don’t mix up sports and politics,” he said.

His statement suggested that the President had clearly broken ranks with the largest and most powerful party in government, based on legislative seats.

Meanwhile, the PDI-P claimed it had made its stance clear on Israeli participation since last year and that the question of Israel’s U-20 participation was a matter of principle that could not be compromised.

“This is not about religion, this is about independence as the right of all nations,” Hasto told a CNN Indonesia talk show on Tuesday, citing the Preamble to the 1945 Constitution.

Several PDI-P members, including Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and Bali Governor I Wayan Koster, had expressed their disapproval of the Israeli team playing at the U-20 World Cup.

Wayan also sent a letter sent to the Youth and Sports Ministry expressing his refusal to even host the group stage draw, which forced FIFA to cancel the event.

But not all of the PDI-P’s regional leaders have toed the party’s executive line on the U-20 controversy. Surakarta Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Jokowi’s eldest son, said his city was ready to host the draw.

“If there’s an order from the PSSI [national soccer association] or the youth and sports minister, I am ready,” he said as quoted by

Read also: Sports and politics don’t mix

Test for Ganjar?

Analysts say the PDI-P’s move could have been a test of loyalty for Ganjar, who has yet to clinch his party’s presidential nomination in spite of his growing popularity, according to various election surveys.

“The party wants to see how likely Ganjar will be to demonstrate his loyalty by voicing [its] stance, despite the likelihood that it will erode his electability rating, especially among the diverse group of millions of soccer fans,” said Bawono Kumoro, a political analyst at Indikator Politik Indonesia.

PDI-P matriarch Megawati Soekarnoputri reportedly has reservations about nominating Ganjar, particularly over whether he would serve the party’s interests.

The party, which is projected to win the 2024 legislative election, has consistently sought to assert its supremacy, including over its presidential candidate as an “officer” of the PDI-P.

Some of Ganjar’s supporters have expressed their disappointment and are even reconsidering their support for him over his U-20 statements. He now faces a risk of losing the support of not only soccer fans, but also the more liberal and progressive voters who make up his base.

Read also: Bali governor says he’s not to blame for U-20 U-turn

‘Hidden rivalry’

The U-20 fracas between the President and his party could signal a conflict of interest between the two in the lead-up to the 2024 elections, analysts said.

“There appears to be competition or hidden rivalry between Jokowi and his party [ahead of] the presidential election.

There are clashing interests. And the [U-20] controversy reflects the ongoing tensions,” Bawono said.

He also suggested that the President’s support for StateOwned Enterprises (SOEs) Minister Erick Thohir might have upset his party.

“We cannot overlook the fact that Jokowi has given Erick a stage that could give his electability a boost, by supporting his bid to take over the PSSI leadership,” said Bawono before FIFA announced it had revoked Indonesia’s license to host the U-20.

He added that the PDI-P might have expected the President to give the post to a fellow party member and not a political outsider.

Regardless of its motive, the PDI-P’s unbending stance could hurt Jokowi’s image both domestically and internationally, said analyst Ujang Komarudin of Indonesia Political Review.

“The PDI-P and Ganjar’s move could really upset Jokowi [so] that he might change his [mind about backing] Ganjar if the country loses its chance to host a global soccer tournament,” he said before the event’s cancellation. (ahw)

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