JAKARTA: Indonesian football players, fans and pundits reacted with anger and sadness on Thursday (Mar 30) after FIFA pulled the Under-20 World Cup from the host nation weeks before it was due to kick off, following protests against Israel’s participation.
The humiliating loss came after two influential governors advocated banning Israel from the competition.
Indonesia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations, and support for the Palestinian cause in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation runs high, fuelling local opposition to hosting the Israeli team.
FIFA’s decision to find a new host – thereby nixing Indonesia’s automatic qualifying spot – puts the country’s most popular sport back in the doldrums and facing another bout of isolation.
Some of the archipelago nation’s football prodigies took to social media with fury and heartbreak after losing the chance to play at what FIFA bills as the “tournament of tomorrow’s superstars”.
“Energy, time, sweat, and even blood we have put in, but in a moment failed because of political reasons. Here’s our big dream that you’ve destroyed,” wrote 19-year-old striker Rabbani Tasnim.
An Indonesian FA video showed players with heads bowed and their coach in tears after receiving the news late on Wednesday that FIFA would seek a new host.
“We, the players, are now affected, not just us but all footballers,” said 18-year-old striker Hokky Caraka.
On Thursday morning, flower boards for the players popped up outside the FA headquarters in central Jakarta, including one that read “do not give up on your dream”.
Indonesians inundated the Instagram page of Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo – one of the leading candidates in next year’s presidential election – with negative comments after he opposed Israel’s participation.
Bali’s governor had also joined the anti-Israel chorus and around a hundred conservative Muslim protesters held an anti-Israel rally in Jakarta this month.