Indonesia’s stance on Israel overshadows the world football event

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Uncertainty over the timing and location of the U20 World Cup continues two days after Indonesian authorities postponed the official draw for the tournament from May 20 to June 11 amid protests over Israel’s qualification.

The draw, which was due to take place in Bali on Friday, has been postponed indefinitely by the Indonesian Football Association due to backlash from conservative Islamic groups.

The draw ceremony had already been thrown into doubt when Bali governor Wayan Koster called for a ban on Israel playing over Indonesia’s diplomatic support for the Palestinian cause.

FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, has not commented on Indonesia’s status as host or a reported bid by Argentina to host the event with the compromise of having an Argentine team in the tournament.

Pressure is mounting on Indonesia’s soccer federation PSSI and its chairman Erick Thohir as if local authorities fail to resolve Israel’s alignment issues, the country risks being suspended by FIFA and potentially missing out on Asia’s 2026 World Cup qualifier.

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A former owner of major international teams including Italian soccer giants Inter Milan and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, Thohir has been Indonesia’s Minister of State Enterprises since 2019.

His skills in sports and political diplomacy are put to the test. Thohir and FIFA President Gianni Infantino are also both members of the International Olympic Committee.

Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Muhadjir Effendy said Thohir plans to fly to Zurich to hold further meetings with FIFA.

“We are still holding talks,” said Effendy, who also serves as acting minister for youth and sport, after a cabinet meeting on Monday. “We hope that we can find the answer and at least FIFA will understand Indonesia’s position on this issue.”

Effendy also said that Indonesia had provided FIFA with conditions for Israel’s presence during the tournament, but there was nothing in common. He did not provide any information about the conditions.

“This is not just a rejection or a protest, it is related to the constitution of our country,” he replied when asked about the leaders of two provinces chosen to host the tournament, who opposed hosting the Israeli team.

Thohir took over as head of the PSSI only after a government inquiry found that the national football association acted negligently and disregarded safety rules before a deadly crowd at the stadium last October, replacing its chairman and executive committee.

The Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster in the city of Malang in East Java was among the world’s worst sporting tragedies. 135 people died after police fired tear gas inside the venue, prompting a panicked run to the exits.

The Israel team, which qualified for the U20 World Tournament for the first time, was to be based in Bali, home to one of the six stadiums set to be used for the tournament, but the governor’s comments have cast doubt on that.

Then Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranovo, who is also the front runner for the 2024 presidential election, joined in calls for the Israeli team to be denied a spot in the tournament.

Pranowo said as a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, widely known as the PDIP, he will uphold the mandate of Indonesia’s first President Sukarno, whose daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri is the party’s leader.

“We know of Bung Karno’s commitment to Palestine, be it in the Asia-Africa Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement or the Conference of the Emerging Forces,” he said last week, referring to Sukarno’s popular nickname. “So we follow his mandate.”

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, with a population of about 277 million, and has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel. However, Indonesian football and authorities agreed to FIFA’s hosting requirements in 2019 before being selected to host the 2021 edition of the U20 World Cup, which was subsequently postponed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Israel qualified last June by reaching the semi-finals of the U19 European Championship. The team lost the final against England.

The Israel Football Association plays continental competitions under the umbrella of European football, having left the Asian Football Federation in 1974 over boycotts of some national teams.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.


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