Indonesia’s sports hosting prospects at risk over U-20 bust

A man walks past a poster for the Indonesia 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup soccer tournament in Jakarta on March 30, 2023. - AFP

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): FIFA’s decision to drop Indonesia as host of the Under-20 soccer World Cup has sown fears that the nation may become a new pariah in international sports, as the fallout from attempts to prevent Israel from competing in the country could jeopardise its intention to host other global events.

Despite a last-ditch lobbying attempt by Erick Thohir, the chief of the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI), FIFA removed Indonesia late on Wednesday (March 29) as host of the youth tournament, only weeks before it was due to begin.

The loss came after two influential governors advocated banning Israel from the competition, marking an abrupt end to Indonesia’s ambition to host another world-class sporting event, which the government had identified as a prime opportunity to expand the nation’s global appeal.

And with world soccer’s governing body putting potential sanctions against the PSSI on the table, “to be decided at a later stage”, the government is now seeking to limit the damage to their other sporting ambitions.

Avoiding sanctions In a video statement issued a day after FIFA’s decision, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he had instructed the PSSI chief to continue lobbying the federation in the hope of avoiding sanctions, including being barred from hosting other international sporting events.

As part of the President’s long-term plans, Indonesia submitted in November last year a formal bid to host the 2036 Olympic Games. Jokowi also previously expressed his dream for Indonesia to eventually host the World Cup.

Talks are underway among several South-East Asian nations, including Indonesia to launch a joint bid to host the senior soccer tournament in 2034. But the head of the Indonesian National Olympics Committee (NOC), Raja Sapta “Okto” Oktohari, said that the country’s politicians would first need to exercise more caution in their statements, lest they risk Indonesia’s sporting ambitions in the long run.

ALSO READ: Bali, East Java governors face flak as Indonesia loses rights to host U-20 World Cup

“We hope that policymakers can offer their support for Indonesian sports as a means of unifying the nation, as opposed to sowing division,” Okto said on Thursday (March 30), as quoted by

Next on the agenda is the Association of National Olympic Committees’ (ANOC) World Beach Games, scheduled to be held in Bali in August. Okto said he had consulted with Bali Governor Wayan Koster and had received no complaints from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician concerning the participation of Israeli athletes.

“Our current test is actually how to convince all the countries that will come and all the potential participants [of Indonesia’s credibility as host], since there will be 206 countries coming for the [Beach Games],” he said.

Koster was the first in his party to publicly call for Israel to be banned from the U-20 competition.

The U-20 event’s cancellation hinged on the boycott of Israel, which only gained traction after regional PDI-P politicians started publicly backing the idea.

The backlash was apparently too much for FIFA to risk, sparking a renewed search for a replacement host.

Disappointed soccer fans, pundits and practitioners, including members of the U-20 team, have since taken to social media to vent their anger over failing to see their youth team play on one of world soccer’s biggest stages.

President Jokowi has sought to appease the masses of disappointed soccer fans by saying that the nation as a whole must learn to look past this incident.

“I know this decision has disappointed a great many people, but we have to respect it,” Jokowi said, noting that he too was disappointed and saddened by the outcome.

“[But] as a great nation, we must look to the future, as opposed to looking back. Let us make this a valuable lesson for us all and for Indonesian soccer.”

Soccer pariah Indonesian soccer analyst Anton Sanjoyo said that while there had been precedents of countries being stripped of their hosting licence, FIFA’s decision was nonetheless humiliating for the nation as a whole.

“We previously had a good track record of hosting international sporting events for other branches of sports,” Anton said.

“This makes [FIFA’s cancellation] particularly embarrassing for Indonesian soccer.”

Since the success of the 2018 Asian Games, the Jokowi administration has set out to host a number of international sporting events, such as the Mandalika MotoGP grand prix, as well as the F1 PowerBoat Championship and the UCI Track Nations Cup cycling tournament in February.

However, the U-20 World Cup would have been a grand opportunity to make good on past mistakes, considering less than six months ago Indonesian soccer was beset by the deadly Kanjuruhan Stadium stampede in Malang, East Java.

Anton said he believed FIFA’s decision served as a vote of no-confidence in Indonesian soccer, particularly as regards the failure to keep unruly soccer fans in check and guaranteeing the safety of all participating teams.

“We don’t seem to have any problems outside of soccer. But as we can see with the Kanjuruhan incident, soccer fans are different,” he told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

“FIFA might not see the government or PSSI as being completely at fault, but their main priority is still ensuring safety for all teams.”

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Indonesia , U-20 , football , world cup , cancellation


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