Indonesia’s hosting duty for 2023 U-20 World Cup is called into question ater FIFA cancels draw

With less than two months left before the competition, all eyes are on the government to be able to decisively curb the swell of political protest.

Fikri Harish and Dio Suhenda

Fikri Harish and Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


A group of people rally inside the Surakarta legislative council in Central Java on March 7 to demand the government deny the Israeli team’s participation in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, to be held in Indonesia in May and June.( Intan Sulistyowati)

March 27, 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – Indonesia’s hosting duty for the 2023 U-20 World Cup is suddenly being called into question, after world soccer’s governing body FIFA moved to cancel the tournament’s group stage draw in Bali scheduled for March 31, amid growing opposition to the participation of Israel.

A number of regional heads and chapters from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) have been vocal in their criticism in recent days, although analysts believe their statements are politically motivated.

With slightly less than two months left before the youth competition begins, all eyes are on the government to be able to decisively curb the swell of political protest against a global sports event that many prefer to keep apolitical.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, a member of the Soccer Association of Indonesia’s (PSSI) executive committee, Arya Sinalungga, said the draw to determine the group fixtures had been canceled without further notice.

“For now, we’re still trying to figure out a way for Indonesia not to be ostracized by the global soccer community,” Arya said at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium in South Jakarta.

He said PSSI head Erick Thohir would report this development to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and a crisis call with FIFA may be on the cards in the next few days. FIFA was not immediately available for comment.

Historical precedent

Israel is one of the 24 teams that have qualified for the tournament, which is set to begin on May 20. But Indonesian people have been steadfast in their support of the Palestinian struggle and the fact that Jakarta maintains no formal relations with Tel Aviv, the occupying force in the Middle East conflict.

“The majority of Indonesians are Muslim, and as we’ve just entered [the holy month of Ramadan], it’s impossible for the PDI-P to attempt going against public opinion,” said Noory Okthariza, a political researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), on Sunday.

“If anyone publicly supported [Israel], the conservative Muslim voters would accuse them of supporting the annexation of Palestine,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Bali Governor Wayan Koster, who is up for reelection next year, was the first to publicly voice his disapproval of Israel via a letter sent to the Youth and Sports Ministry made public last Monday. Central Java Governor and current election frontrunner Ganjar Pranowo, along with the PDI-P’s regional branches in Jakarta and East Java, followed suit in the next following days.

Bali, Jakarta, Surakarta in Central Java and Surabaya in East Java are among the six cites set to host the U-20 championship. And while the PDI-P’s central executive board has yet to voice its thoughts on the matter, the party’s social media accounts have published statements from PDI-P Jakarta rejecting Israel’s participation.

In his statement, Ganjar reasoned his stance was in line with that of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, the father of PDI-P chairwoman Megawati Soekarnoputri.

National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) political researcher Wasisto Raharjo Jati told the Post this reference to Sukarno was a way for the party to position itself as the inheritor of the founding father’s legacy.

“In 1962, Sukarno excluded Israel from the Asian Games in Jakarta to show Indonesia was committed to stand against colonialism,” he explained on Sunday.

“The PDI-P elites are trying to show they are committed to continuing Sukarno’s legacy.”

Sports and politics

The PDI-P joined other political parties in publicly denouncing Israel’s participation, including Gerindra, the United Development Party (PPP) and the opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

But Golkar and the non-parliamentary Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) have come out on the opposite side of the argument, with the former insisting sports and politics should always be kept separate.

“Our foreign policy has always been supportive of Palestine and Israel’s participation won’t change that,” Golkar lawmaker Dave Laksono told the Post on Sunday.

“There were other international events featuring Israel delegates before this, and there was no rejection then.”

Two Israeli professional climbers, Noa Shiran and Yuval Shemla, attended the 2022 Climbing World Cup, which was held in Jakarta in September of last year.

Several other political parties have yet to voice their opinions and were not immediately available for comment.

Echoing Dave’s criticism, PSSI’s Arya admitted to being confused about why the furor over Israel only recently swelled, given the team’s participation was confirmed since last year. “Why only now? We also don’t know why. Before, there was barely any criticism,” said Arya.

Indonesian soccer observer Anton Sanjoyo said it was imperative for Indonesia to involve Israel, lest the nation wanted its status as tournament host be removed by FIFA.

“If Indonesia refuses to involve Israel, FIFA will for sure look for other countries to host the U-20 World Cup, since Israel is a member of FIFA and has qualified for the tournament fair and square,” Anton said on Sunday.

“Indonesia must follow FIFA’s mandate or risk being embarrassed on the international stage,” he added.

Anton also urged the government to be firm against political narratives that suggest Indonesia should exclude Israel out of solidarity with Palestine and prevent politics from further creeping into Indonesian soccer.

Palestine Ambassador to Indonesia Zuhair Al Shun even insisted earlier this month the country would have no qualms about Indonesia hosting Israel at the U-20 event, saying, “Participation has nothing to do with liking or disliking other countries.” (tjs)

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