Drama of U-20 World Cup
The Indonesian people will definitely be prouder to watch their national team play in the World Cup through the qualifying route, not because they gained a slot as the host country.
FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) has officially withdrawn the 2023 U-20 World Cup from Indonesia. "Due to the current circumstances" is the only reason it gave on its decision to revoke Indonesia's hosting rights to this year’s U-20 World Cup, which was originally granted at the FIFA Council Meeting on 24 Nov. 2019 in Shanghai, China.
At that time, FIFA President Gianni Infantino announced that Indonesia had been chosen to host the tournament, beating out Brazil and Peru, which had also applied to host the 2021 U-20 World Cup. However, the 2021 U-20 World Cup was postponed until 2023 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Various preparations were made after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo sent a letter to FIFA in August 2019, along with letters of guarantee from the ministers of finance, manpower, law and human rights, and communication and informatics, as well as the National Police chief.
Ten stadiums were initially proposed as venues for the U-20 World Cup. However, FIFA approved just six of the 10 stadiums, namely Jakabaring Stadium (Palembang), Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium (Jakarta), Si Jalak Harupat Stadium (Bandung), Manahan Stadium (Solo), Gelora Bung Tomo (Surabaya), and Kapten I Wayan Dipta Stadium (Gianyar).
Then suddenly, Bali Governor I Wayan Koster issued a statement opposing the participation of the Israeli team for constitutional reasons. FIFA also canceled he group draw for the U-20 World Cup that was to be held on 31 March, citing Koster's refusal, as the draw would be impossible without all participants.
A number of other parties, including Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, also voiced objections to Israel's visit. The reason was the same: Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Many people assume that the revocation of Indonesia's host status for the U-20 World Cup was because of this rejection of Israel.
Even though Indonesia had been granted hosting rights in 2019, there were still technical and nontechnical obstacles prior to implementation. In addition to opposing Israel's presence, Indonesia was also not 100 percent ready to hold the event, which was scheduled for 20 May to 11 June 2023.
We can look at various media for surveys on stadiums to be venues for the U-20 World Cup matches. FIFA had still found the stadiums to be unsuitable. In fact, the kick-off for the U-20 World Cup is only a few dozen days away.
The concert of K-pop group BLACKPINK at the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium some time ago must also be among FIFA's notes. That was the first time that a venue for a World Cup-class tournament (albeit at the junior level) was used to hold a concert close to the schedule of the international match.
This unpreparedness prompted FIFA make an immediate decision to move the U-20 World Cup outside Indonesia. FIFA certainly understands the political map in Indonesia, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, so that there would be objections to Israel's arrival in Indonesia.
Who would guarantee the security of the Israeli team and that demonstrations would not be held every day despite the security guarantee?
Taking Israel out of the U-20 World Cup is impossible for FIFA. It doesn't have the strength and courage to deny Israeli participation, like it did to Russia at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Israel also has the right to play at the U-20 World Cup because in terms of performance, it deserves to after qualifying in the European zone.
On the other hand, FIFA also cannot automatically revoke Indonesia as a host on the ground of diplomatic issues with Israel. FIFA is reluctant vis-à-visIsrael's pros and cons, so it is looking for other reasons and waiting for the right moment to "eliminate" Indonesia.
If indeed the Kanjuruhan Stadium tragedy was the reason, FIFA should have imposed sanctions on Indonesia at that time, including revoking its hosting rights for the 2023 U-20 World Cup. However, the fact is that FIFA did not punish Indonesia and is only using that excuse now.
Gianni Infantino had an interest in Indonesia at that time as regards the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) over its votes in the FIFA presidential election. Infantino was very clever at using the Kanjurahan Tragedy as an excuse. It was as if FIFA had deliberately kept the Kanjuruhan Tragedy in mind.
The grief of the families of the Kanjurahan Tragedy victims became a "blessing" for FIFA as a reason to move the U-20 World Cup from Indonesia.
Sports and politics
Israel made sure that it would qualify for the U-20 World Cup finals after it advanced to the U-19 Euros semifinals in June 2022.
This event was also the qualifying round for the European zone to determine who would represent Europe in Indonesia. England, France, Italy, Slovakia and Israel emerged as the best in the European region.
FIFA and Indonesia, as the host, definitely knew about Israel's advancement. The wave of objections had already begun to emerge at that time. It's just that the decibel was still low and not yet high.
Two months before the event, the objections grew louder. This cannot be separated from who was taking advantage of whom at the right moment.
The calls to “not to mix sports with politics” seem like mere slogans. Like it or not, sports have always been mixed up with politics, especially football.
The calls to “not to mix sports with politics” seem like mere slogans.
Bung Karno once ordered the Indonesian national team to withdraw from the 1958 World Cup because it would be facing Israel in the qualifier for the Asian zone. Indonesia was also excluded from the international sports comunity when it was sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when it refused the participation of the Israeli and Taiwanese contingents at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta.
Two years later, Indonesia, along with China and North Korea, also boycotted the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for political reasons.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) is one of those that firmly rejects Israel's arrival. Two of its members, I Wayan Koster and Ganjar Pranowo, said their rejection referred to Bung Karno's ideological view that he would never recognize Israel as long as Palestine was not yet independent.
This is a logical, normal, and reasonable reason because this party with the symbol of a bull with a white snout carries Bung Karno's ideology.
Rumors say that the PDI-P's move is to pave the way for Ganjar and Erick Thohir toward the coming 2024 political contest. There is nothing wrong with what the PDI-P members did. After all, what was done was in line with the constitution.
The question is, will this strategy be effective for all political parties and their members who will take part in the political contest? Or is it actually a blunder that can decrease its electability as well as public trust and support?
All political steps must be calculated. The PDI-P must have counted its gains and losses. People who like football (and other sports) have power on social media and the internet. Meanwhile, the religious masses (Muslims) have power in mass demonstrations and public discourses.
The football issue of rejecting Israel’s arrival to Indonesia is now a trending topic, even internationally. However, the question is, how long can this issue last? As many as 135 people died and hundreds of others were injured during the Kanjuruhan Tragedy, for which the defendants were given only light sentences while some were acquitted, and we are starting to forget it.
However, raising the issue of ideology in rejecting or accepting Israel for the sake of hosting the U-20 World Cup will carry over, especially ahead of the 2024 political contest. It is very likely that in the 2024 presidential debate, Ganjar or Erick, who have a high chance of advancing in the election, will be asked about this ideology.
If the moderator asks, "What is your reason for choosing to refuse Israel playing in the Indonesia U-20 World Cup, which eventually caused future young Indonesian players miss an opportunity to play on the world stage?" Ganjar, Erick, or any of the presidential and vice presidential candidates "involved" in rejecting Israel rejection, it will be easy to answer that question.
For example, they could answer like this: "We still refer to Bung Karno's statement. [We will reject Israel] As long as Palestine is not yet independent. Indonesian youth have not lost the opportunity to play on the world stage. Later, we will make a formidable Indonesian national team. They can qualify at the world level, either juniors or seniors. Not through free tickets as the host, but through achievement. Mr. Erick has proven this. Our FIFA rating has gone up from the 170s to the 150s. God willing, it will continue to rise to the 90s, like in 1998, our highest achievement in the FIFA rankings.”
Saving players’ mental health
FIFA has struck its gavel. Indonesia has been canceled as the host of the 2023 U-20 World Cup. The most important thing now is saving the mental health of the players. They are of course very down, sad, disappointed, and angry.
The dream of playing this year at the international level carrying the Red and White flag is gone. They can't get lost in confusion.
The PSSI must accompany Marselino Ferdinan and his peers psychologically. There are still many championships to look forward to.
It's time to rise up to improve the management of Indonesian football for the better.
The children in the U-20 squad can be transferred to the U-22 Indonesian national team, which will compete in the Cambodia 2023 SEA Games. Their mental strength must be revived immediately. Deep sadness is certain to have a bad impact on the future. It's time to rise up to improve the management of Indonesian football for the better.
The Indonesian people will definitely be prouder to watch their national team play in the World Cup through the qualifying route, not because they gained a slot as the host country. That hope turns to Erick Thohir and his staff at the PSSI, of course with full support from the state.
Rosnindar Prio Eko Rahardjo, Communication studies lecturer at Dr. Soetomo University, Surabaya
This article was translated by Kurnia Siswo.