Indonesia’s tensions with Israel force delay of FIFA U20 World Cup draw

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GENELA, Switzerland (AP) – FIFA has postponed the men’s Under-20 World Cup finals because of host Indonesia’s problems with Israel’s qualification, the Indonesian soccer federation said Sunday.

The decision was announced five days before FIFA was due to draw 24 nations on Friday on the island of Bali for the May 20-June 11 tournament, including host Israel.

The event was drawn into doubt last week, when the governor of Bali, Wayan Koster, called for Israel to be banned from playing there because of Indonesia’s diplomatic support for the Palestinian cause.

Among the six stadiums to be used for the 52-match tournament is one in the Balinese city of Gianyar.

Conservative Islamic groups also held protests against Israel’s involvement in the Indonesian capital Jakarta last week.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with about 277 million people, and does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

Protesters march during a protest against Israel’s participation in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, Jakarta, Indonesia, March 20, 2023. (AP/Achmad Ibrahim)

However, Indonesian soccer and public authorities agreed to FIFA’s hosting requirements in 2019 before being selected to host the 2021 edition of the Under-20 World Cup. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the tournament to be postponed for two years.

Israel qualified for its first Under-20 World Cup last June when it reached the semi-finals of the European Under-19 Championship. The teams went on to lose the final to England.

FIFA declined to comment on Sunday that the withdrawal was postponed eight weeks before the opening game.

If Indonesia fails to resolve its hosting problems in Israel, the national soccer confederation risks being suspended by FIFA. That sanction may remove Indonesia from Asia qualifying for the 2026 World Cup which starts in October.

The president of the Indonesian soccer federation is Erick Thohir, a former co-owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. He is also a former president of Inter Milan, the Italian soccer club whose fans include FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Thohir and Infantino are both members of the International Olympic Committee.

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