Indonesia, booted as U-20 World Cup host, sees backlash against anti-Israel leaders
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian footballers and their fans reacted with anger on Thursday after FIFA pulled the Under-20 World Cup from the host nation weeks before it was due to start, following protests against Israel’s participation.
The humiliating loss came after two influential governors proposed banning Israel from the competition, with many on Thursday speaking out against the anti-Israeli policies.
Indonesia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations, and support for the Palestinian cause is high in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, prompting local opposition to hosting the Israeli team.
FIFA’s decision to find a new host – thus Indonesia’s automatic qualification spot – has put the country’s most popular sport back in the thick of things and facing another isolation break.
Some of the island nation’s footballing prowess have taken to social media with anger and heartbreak after missing out on the chance to play in what FIFA hopes will be the “superstars of tomorrow tournaments”.
“Energy, time, sweat, and even blood we put in, but the point failed because of political reasons. This is our big dream you have ruined,” wrote 19-year-old striker Rabbani Tasnim.
Indonesian FA video showed players bowing their heads and their coach in tears after receiving the news late on Wednesday that FIFA would be looking for a new host.
Mimpi itu tetap harus dikejar and omsadaan besar pasti akan terus datang.✨
The limit is kasih untuk selalu konsenten langang melembala Merah Putih di kancah international, adik-adik. Semangat juangmu and terus fokus dalam dalam naggaja cita-citamu can.#KitaGaruda pic.twitter.com/AGY12e1cZP
— PSSI (@PSSI) March 29, 2023
“We, the players, are beaten now, not just us but all the footballers,” said 18-year-old striker Hokky Caraka.
On Thursday morning, floral plaques for the players went up outside the FA headquarters in central Jakarta, including one that read “don’t give up on your dream.”
Indonesians flooded 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 involvement.
The governor of Bali has also joined the anti-Israel chorus and around a hundred conservative Muslim protesters held an anti-Israel rally in Jakarta this month.
But there was a lot of support for the competition awarded to the country in 2019, with many people seeing it as a matter of national pride.
Jakarta promised to guarantee Israel’s participation despite its pro-Palestinian stance, but opposition voices became too loud for FIFA.
“This is an extremely painful incident for the people of Indonesia. Those who made the noise and failed us… must be held accountable,” said Akmal Marhali, an expert at football watchdog Save Our Soccer.
Indonesian officials said losing the competition could cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars.
FIFA has threatened further sanctions and could exclude Indonesia from the 2026 World Cup qualifiers which start in October. It was banned for a year in 2015 due to government interference.
But for Indonesia’s fervent fans, it was the loss of their first ever major football tournament that hurt the most.
“I am very disappointed because it was my dream to watch Indonesia host a world football event,” said 40-year-old supporter Jarnawi, who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name.
The game in the country is plagued by shaky infrastructure and fan violence, and is still alive in the wake of last year’s deadly stadium stampede that killed more than 130 people.
But it was the conflict of politics and sport that cost the competition that many had hoped for for a long time.
“We are talking about young people who want to play soccer. They are no longer interested,” said philosopher Justin Lhaksana.
“Why is this issue blindly mixed with political games?”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.