The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) decided to remove Indonesia from hosting the 2023 U-20 World Cup, which takes place between May 20 and June 11, due to political problems with the participation of Israel's national team.
In a statement published on 29 March, FIFA announced its decision to remove Indonesia as the host of the FIFA U-20 World Cup and that it would find a new country without changing the current dates of the tournament.
This decision came after an emerging Indonesian political and popular rejected the participation of the Israeli national soccer team in the World Cup, which was to be held in six Indonesian cities.
In 2019, Indonesia won the right to host this sports tournament, ahead of Brazil and Peru, when it was scheduled to be held in 2021. However, due to the Corona pandemic, FIFA postponed the tournament to 2023 while preserving Indonesia's hosting rights.
The sporting dilemma started after the Israeli youth team qualified for the 2023 U-20 World Cup. Despite the trade and economic relations between Indonesia and Israel, Indonesian people and some politicians refused to welcome the Israeli soccer team.
On this basis, a demonstration occurred in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, where demonstrators went out waving Palestinian and Indonesian flags to pressure their government to ban the Israeli national team from participating in the World Cup.
Moreover, Bali Governor Wayan Koster rejected hosting the Israeli team in support of the Palestinian cause. According to The Jakarta Post, he sent a letter to Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali and requested him to "adopt a policy forbidding the Israeli team from competing in Bali," claiming that there are no official diplomatic relations between the Indonesian and Israeli governments. Koster also sent copies of the letter, which went viral on Monday, 20 March, to the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) and the Coordinating Human Development Ministry.
Besides Koster, Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and candidate in next year's presidential election, opposed Israel's participation.
Days after Bali's governor's decision, FIFA postponed the tournament's finals draw five days before its scheduled date without providing a reason or a new date. The Under-20 FIFA World Cup draw was to take place on the island of Bali on Friday, March 31.
The opposition line to Israel's reception argued that the Indonesian government does not establish official relations with Israel. In this setting, Al Mayadeen TV reported that the deputy head of the People's Consultative Council, Hidayat Nur, stated that the rejection of "Israel" in Indonesia is a legal and constitutional issue, and there is a ban on normalization in all its forms.
“Article 150 of the resolution stated that "Indonesia has no relationship with Israel, which is considered the occupier of Palestine. For this reason, Indonesia rejects all forms of relationship with it." Al Mayadeen continued.
For this reason, former President Ahmed Sukarno refused to let his country's national team play against the Israeli national team in the World Cup qualifiers in 1958 and did not invite the Israeli national team to the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta.
In a speech, Indonesia President Joko Widodo tried to reconcile Indonesia's interests with its political and popular stance towards Israel in support of the Palestinian cause.
At the outset, he noted Indonesia's position supporting the Palestinian independence cause and the completion of a two-state solution. But he also mentioned the Indonesian effort to obtain the right to host the U-20 2023 World Cup.
Additionally, President Widodo insisted they "had no idea about the participating team because it was still in the pre-qualification process." Then, the Israeli national team qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in July 2022. Moreover, he emphasized that Israel's participation in the competition will not affect Indonesia's consistent foreign policy position on Palestine because its support for the Palestinian cause "has always been solid and strong."
Accordingly, he called for not mixing politics and sports and remarked that the Government and Indonesia Football Association PSSI were still “striving to seek the best solution.”
In the same context, The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) stated about "calculating the negative impacts" that Indonesian football could face after canceling the draw for the FIFA U20 World Cup in Bali.
The statement linked Bali's governor's refusal to host the Israeli national team and FIFA's decision to cancel the drawing event. It claimed that for FIFA, "the Governor's refusal is the same as canceling the implementation guarantee issued by the Provincial Government of Bali."
As for the potential negatives, the statement mentioned that the FIFA sanctions might "isolate Indonesian football from the world," according to PSSI Executive Committee (Exco) member Arya Sinulingga. He asked all Indonesians to be calm and promised to find a solution to "save Indonesian football."
In addition, the statement referred to the consequences of the cancellation of FIFA for Indonesia after the concern of football fans on social media about it at the time.
On the sports front, it focused on FIFA's suspension of Indonesia, which means the country will not be able to participate in FIFA activities and will not have another chance to be selected by FIFA to host a sporting event. Also, Indonesia will not be considered a candidate to host the 2034 World Cup.
On the political, the statement claimed that Indonesia could be criticized "for not carrying out FIFA's mandate" and "for acting discriminatively mixing sports with politics."
Furthermore, the statement continued that if Indonesian football stops, more than 500,000 people will be directly affected because players, coaches, referees, clubs, and communities will lose their livelihoods.
However, the statement couldn't prevent FIFA's decision to strip Indonesia of hosting the 2023 World Cup for the U-20 teams.
On 29 March, FIFA announced the decision to remove Indonesia from the 2023 World Cup after a meeting between FIFA President Gianni Infantino and President of the PSSI Erick Thohir. Moreover, FIFA hinted at “potential sanctions against the PSSI” that may be announced later.
Nevertheless, FIFA declared it will stay dedicated to actively aiding the PSSI in the coming months and will give the necessary assistance.
The FIFA statement did not mention the real reason behind the decision directly and straightforwardly but instead said that it was "due to the current circumstances."
Arya Sinulingga told CNN that FIFA’s decision stemmed from the refusal by one regional Indonesian leader to host matches if Israel took part.
As a reaction to the decision, Thohir published a completely black picture on his Twitter, expressing his sadness. Before flying to meet Infantino, he shared a photo of him and the U20 National Team players praying "for the Indonesian football." Also, he had promised to "fight for the future of Indonesian football."
In this sense, spread pictures showed Indonesian national team members disappointed and upset with heads bowed after missing the opportunity to compete in what FIFA refers to as the "tournament of tomorrow's superstars."
"Energy, time, sweat, and even blood we have put in, but in a moment failed because of political reasons. Here's our big dream that you've destroyed," wrote 19-year-old striker Rabbani Tasnim.
Shin Tae-Yong, a South Korean former professional footballer and manager who is coaching the Indonesia national football team, said Indonesia’s inability to host the U-20 World Cup is a significant loss.
“I am hurt!” he said, “I can feel the sadness and mental breakdown of the players,” France24 reported.
Head coach Shin Tae-Yong expressed he was "heartbroken" and "tired" after preparing the team for more than three years for the youth football showpiece, France24 reported.
The President of the Republic of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, called to respect and accept FIFA's decision and not waste energy blaming each other.
“As a big nation, we have to look forward, not to look back. Let this be a valuable lesson for all of us, for Indonesian football,” he remarked.
Moreover, he instructed the PSSI president "to make the best effort possible, so no sanctions to be imposed against Indonesia and still has the chance to host other international events,” he said.
Furthermore, a few days after FIFA’s decision, President Widodo, accompanied by the PSSI president, visited the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium to meet with the U-20 Indonesian National Team coach and players in an attempt to encourage and console.
In his press statement, President Widodo stressed Indonesian team still has many opportunities to compete in various competitions, including the SEA Games, the Asian Games, the AFF Cup, and the 2024 Olympics.
Once again, he reiterated his support for PSSI to build a solid and competitive national football team.
“In the future, we want to have a more solid team so that we can have a national team that is truly ready to compete,” he said.
Hence, although FIFA did not explicitly indicate the reason behind denying Indonesia the hosting of the 2023 World Cup, the sequence of events and the officials' statements made it clear.
Once again, the problem of the relationship between sports and politics has returned to the fore months after the end of the last round of discussion on the Qatar World Cup 2022.
Some accused FIFA of double standards in its politically motivated sporting decisions, especially after banning the Russian football team from participating in the 2022 World Cup. After this decision, many considered that FIFA did mix sports and politics.
Finally, it appears that the sports sector in Indonesia did not take the news well, especially since Indonesia was looking forward to regaining local and international confidence in its sports capabilities seven months after the stadium disaster in East Java at Kanjuruhan stadium, where more than 125 people were killed due to a crowd crush.
The challenge for the Indonesian state and sports officials remains to solve the problem of potential FIFA sanctions and prepare for the next tournaments if Indonesian football is not frozen, as feared by the PSSI statement.
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