Indonesia’s turn as world soccer host in peril over Israel

JAKARTA, 28 Mar: Indonesia could lose its chance to host a global youth soccer tournament, and its chance to qualify for the 2026 World Cup, after refusing to welcome a team from Israel.
FIFA canceled an important preparatory step after regional governors and protesters demanded Israel’s team be excluded, and the tournament, planned for May 20-June 11, appears to be on hold.
The official draw for group assignments in the Under-20 World Cup, was supposed to take place in Bali Friday, but FIFA canceled the event after the island’s governor, Wayan Koster, called for a ban on the Israeli team playing there.
The Israeli team, which will participate in the Under-20 world tournament for the first time, had been expected to be based in Bali, home to one of the six stadiums scheduled to be used for the tournament.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict is an emotional issue in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, whose 277 million people broadly support the Palestinian cause both for religious reasons and an anti-colonial tradition that dates back to the country’s independence. With a presidential election coming up next year, the governing Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, widely known as PDIP, is wary of controversy.
In March 2022, an Israeli delegation attended the Interparliamentary Union in Bali, a majority Hindu province.
FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, has not commented on the situation or a reported offer from Argentina to stage the event. If local authorities fail to resolve the hosting issues over Israel, Indonesia risks being suspended by FIFA and could miss the Asian qualifying rounds for the 2026 World Cup, which will begin this October. Indonesia has not made it to the World Cup since 1934, when it competed as a Dutch colony.
President Joko Widodo said Tuesday evening that his administration is trying to save the tournament. He said Indonesia had objected to Israel’s participation and told citizens that the country had agreed to host before knowing Israel would qualify, but added that people should not mix “political affairs and sports affairs” and that he had sent the head of Indonesia’s national soccer association, PSSI to Zurich to meet with FIFA.
PSSI chairman Erick Thohir has been Indonesia’s minister of state-owned enterprises since 2019. He took over as leader of the PSSI after a government investigation concluded that the national soccer association had ignored safety and security regulations ahead of a stadium crush that killed 135 people last October. He’s also a former owner of major international teams, including Italian soccer giant Inter Milan and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.
“Continue to be passionate about finding solutions to every challenge, for the sake of an increasingly global Indonesia,” Thohir wrote in a Twitter post.
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, Muhadjir Effendy, said Monday that Indonesia had proposed conditions about the presence of Israel during the tournament to FIFA, but said there was no common ground. He did not elaborate on the conditions.
“This is not merely a rejection or protest, but this is related to our country’s Constitution,” he said in response to questions about the leaders of two provinces selected as tournament venues pushing back against hosting the Israeli team.
The preamble of Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution states: “Whereas Independence is the inalienable right of all nations; therefore, colonialism must be abolished in the world as it is not in conformity with humanity and justice.” Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo, a PDIP member who is also the frontrunner for the 2024 presidential election, joined calls for the Israeli team to be denied a place in the tournament on March 23. The secular party said its position was based on that of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, whose daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri is chair of the party. (AP)