JAKARTA: In a last-ditch attempt to retain the country’s right to host the U-20 World Cup, Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) chairman Erick Thohir flew to Qatar on Wednesday (Mar 29) to meet with Gianni Infantino, the president of the sport’s governing body FIFA.
Despite Mr Thohir’s lobbying efforts and a personal letter from Indonesian President Joko Widodo stating the country’s readiness to host the tournament, FIFA announced that it has decided to strip Indonesia of its U-20 World Cup host status, less than two months before the tournament was supposed to kick off.
“A new host will be announced as soon as possible, with the dates of the tournament currently remaining unchanged,” the football body said in a statement released shortly after Mr Infantino’s meeting with Mr Thohir.
The world football body had earlier expressed concern about Indonesia’s ability to host the event, cancelling at the last minute the tournament’s group draw event which was originally scheduled to take place on Friday on the popular resort island of Bali.
FIFA did not specify the reason for its decision to disallow Indonesia from hosting the U-20 World Cup, stating only that it was “due to the current circumstances.”
This appeared to be a reference to growing calls in the Muslim-majority country for the Israeli team to be excluded from the tournament. Among those calling for the ban were two governors who hail from the same political party as the Indonesian president.
Many Indonesians took to social media to express their anger and frustration, not at FIFA, but at the politicians deemed responsible for the debacle.
“Who knows what sacrifices we have made for this country, for this event. It is gone in a blink of an eye because of your political motives,” Marselino Ferdinan, a midfielder in the Indonesian U-20 squad, wrote on his Instagram account.
The decision meant that millions of dollars spent to refurbish six stadiums chosen as the cup’s venue and years of preparation to host Indonesia’s first FIFA tournament went down the drain.
It also meant that the Indonesian squad will not be participating in its first ever U-20 World Cup, since a spot in the tournament is reserved for the host nation.
Adding insult to injury, FIFA said “potential sanctions against the PSSI may also be decided at a later stage.”
HOW IT BEGAN
Indonesia was awarded U-20 World Cup host status in 2019, defeating bids from Brazil and Peru. At that time, the tournament was supposed to be held in 2021 but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to be postponed until this year.
Indonesia soon got to work to organise the tournament, refurbishing six stadiums in the cities of Jakarta, Bandung, Solo, Surabaya, Palembang and Bali to meet FIFA standards.
The Indonesian ministry for public works said that it has so far spent 322 billion rupiah (US$21.4 million) to renovate the stadiums as well as other pitches where teams would have held practice sessions.
Indonesians were excited to play host to a major international football tournament for the first time in history. However, criticisms towards Indonesia hosting the U-20 World Cup began to surface last year when Israel qualified for the tournament.
The Muslim-majority country does not have a formal diplomatic relationship with Israel as a sign of solidarity towards Palestine.
A number of small demonstrations against Israel’s participation in this year’s tournament began to emerge, particularly in some of the cities playing host to the event. These demonstrations intensified as the tournament drew nearer.