JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) chief Erick Thohir (pic) is jetting off to Zurich, Switzerland, on behalf of the government in a last-ditch effort to lobby world soccer governing body Fifa not to move the U-20 World Cup out of Indonesia, as President Joko Widodo seeks to contain an intraparty revolt against Israel’s participation in the youth tournament.
In a video statement on Tuesday (March 28), the President said Israel’s participation in the event would in no way change Indonesia’s support for Palestine, adding 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,” Jokowi said.
He was referring to a statement made earlier this month by Palestinian envoy Zuhair Al Shun that Palestine had no qualms with Indonesia hosting the Israeli team for the U-20.
The President also stressed it was “an honour” for Indonesia to be given the opportunity to host a sporting event on the scale of the U-20 World Cup and noted that when Indonesia joined the bidding for hosting rights in 2019, Israel had yet to qualify for a spot in the tournament.
Jokowi said he had sent PSSI head Erick Thohir to Zurich on behalf of the government to negotiate with Fifa to find a solution to the political impasse.
Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said on Monday that Indonesia had outlined certain conditions regarding Israel’s participation in the tournament but that the demands had been rejected by Fifa, leading to the cancellation of the group-stage draw.
“We lament that the conditions we demanded were declined by Fifa,” Muhadjir said, as quoted by kompas.com. Without specifying the demands, Muhadjir said they had been made out of consideration for the country’s 1945 Constitution, which states that the nation stands against any form of colonialism.
Calls to bar Israel from the U-20 World Cup out of support for the Palestinian cause gained traction after regional politicians from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) threw their weight behind the idea, which had previously been promoted mostly by right-wing Muslim groups.
“We still hope for a change in attitude from Fifa, and we will try to accommodate the voices of resistance in the country,” he said.
Separately on Monday, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said the government was seeking to mediate between the camp that supported the Israel ban and the one that feared for the country's sporting future if the U-20 was cancelled.
“We also want Indonesia to be in good standing on the international stage, and we see sports as one of the avenues to achieve that,” Mahfud told reporters without revealing details of the mediation plans.
Following the cancellation of the tournament draw in Bali, initially scheduled for Friday, a number of countries have lined up to take over hosting duties for the youth world cup, pending Fifa'secision.
The Argentine Football Association (AFA) is reportedly keen to replace Indonesia as host.
Meanwhile, a former PSSI official claimed the association had received an official letter from Fifa notifying it that Peru, the host of the U-17 World Cup this year, would take over the U-20 event as well.