The resounding slap came after the governors of two influential provinces called for Israel to be excluded from the finals scheduled for May 20-June 11.
Indonesia’s soccer players, fans and pundits reacted with anger and grief to FIFA’s stripping of the country’s hosting of the Under-20 World Cup weeks before it was due, following local protests over Israel’s participation.
The resounding slap came after the governors of two influential provinces called for the exclusion of Israel from the finals scheduled for May 20-June 11. There is no official diplomatic relationship between the two countries, and support for the Palestinian cause in the largest Muslim-majority country has raised tensions over hosting Israel.
“A new host will be announced as soon as possible, with the tournament dates currently remaining unchanged,” FIFA said in a statement on Wednesday, after meeting the Football Association’s president, Eric Tuhir, the former president of the Italian club Inter, on a dispatch from the country’s president, Joko Widodo. Possible against the Indonesian Federation for the game, without giving additional details about the reasons for withdrawing the championship and contenting himself with the phrase “due to the current circumstances.”
Tohir said after meeting FIFA President Jani Infantino in Doha: “Indonesia is a member of the International Federation, and therefore with regard to matters of world football, we must follow the laws set. FIFA considers that the matter cannot continue in this way, and therefore we must acquiesce.”
FIFA’s decision could send Indonesia back into stagnation and a new era of isolation. The Palestinian Supreme Council for Youth and Sports and the Palestinian sports family of the Indonesian sports family expressed their deep regret over FIFA’s decision, stressing its stand and solidarity with Indonesia and the Indonesian sports family.
In a statement, the council criticized the IFRC for “double standards,” stressing that the Indonesian people had been “punished for using their democratic right to take a stand sympathetic to the people of Palestine, and to demand the punishment of racism and the accountability of the occupation.”
Some of the promising game stars in the Asian archipelago expressed their anger and grief on social media, for losing the opportunity to play in a tournament that FIFA describes as the “Stars of Tomorrow Championship”.
The attacker, Rabbani Tasnim, 19, wrote, “The energy, the time, the sweat, and even the blood we gave, but at the moment we failed for political reasons. Here is our great dream that you destroyed.”
A video clip published by the Indonesian Federation showed players with bowed heads and their coach soaked in tears on Wednesday, after receiving the news of Indonesia’s stripping of hosting. “We, the players, have been affected now, not only us, but all football players,” said striker Hockey Karaca (18 years).
On Thursday, bouquets of roses presented to the players appeared outside the headquarters of the Indonesian Federation in Jakarta, on one of which read: “Do not give up on your dream.” With negative comments, fans flooded the Instagram page of Central Java’s governor, Ganjar Pranow, one of the main candidates in next year’s presidential elections, after he objected to Israel’s participation.
Bali Governor Wayan Koster also called for Israel to be excluded because of its policies toward the Palestinians, in a letter to the Ministry of Youth and Sports last month. The organizers hoped that hosting Israel’s matches on the Hindu-majority island of Bali would lead to solutions, but Koster’s opposition cast more doubts. About 100 conservative Muslim demonstrators marched in the capital, Jakarta, this month to protest Israel’s participation.
On the other hand, there was popular support for the tournament, which the country won the right to host in 2019, and many considered it a source of national pride. Jakarta pledged to ensure the participation of Israel, despite its pro-Palestinian stance, but the objecting voices rose too much for FIFA.
“This is a really painful incident for the Indonesian people,” said Ekmal Merhali, an expert with Save Our Soccer. “Those who made noise and made us fail must be held accountable.” Indonesian officials said withdrawing the tournament would cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars.
FIFA threatened additional sanctions, which might keep it away from the 2026 World Cup qualifiers, which will start in October, noting that it was suspended in 2015 for a year, due to government interference in the game.
But for fans of the game, the loss of hosting the first major tournament is the most painful, as the 40-year-old fan, Jarnawi, said: “I am very disappointed because I dreamed of Indonesia hosting a major football tournament.”
The game has long suffered in the country due to shaky infrastructure and fan violence, while Indonesia was hit by one of the worst stadium disasters in football history, which led to the death of 135 people in a stampede in the city of Malang, east Java last October, including more than forty children.
The country’s president had called for politics not to conflict with sports, stressing that “Israel’s participation has nothing to do with the consistency of our foreign policy towards Palestine. Because our support for Palestine is always strong and firm. Do not mix sports with politics.”
But in the end, the conflict of politics with sports led to his country being stripped of the right to host. “We’re talking about young people who want to play football. They don’t have any other interests anymore. Why is this issue so blindly mixed with political games?” the announcer, Justin, told Haksana.