By mixing sports with politics and religion, Indonesia is at serious risk of losing its right to host the FIFA U-20 World Cup from May to June over growing calls to exclude Israel from the tournament. From here, things might get Messi.
The Muslim-majority country has always harbored animosity towards the Jewish nation, particularly over its occupation of Palestine. Indonesia does not have formal diplomatic ties with Israel, but it had made assurances that, as host of the tournament, it would give fair treatment to the Israeli youth soccer team.
Amid calls to refuse the Israeli team from entering Indonesia by conservative Muslim groups, things really took a turn when Bali Governor Wayan Koster last week joined the anti-Israel choir. Previously, there was a proposal that Hindu-majority Bali, considered to be among the bastions for religious tolerance in Indonesia, would host all of Israel’s matches in the tournament.
FIFA then canceled the tournament’s draw event, which was supposed to take place in Bali on March 31, over the political tensions, which does not portend well to Indonesia’s chances of hosting the U-20 World Cup with just over a month to go.
Football proud nation Argentina, whose senior team won the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in December 2022, is set to throw its hat in the ring in case FIFA decides to strip Indonesia of U-20 World Cup hosting rights.
Should it secure hosting rights, Argentina would get the bonus of entering its youth team in the tournament, as it had previously failed to progress out of the South American qualifiers.
Indonesia, meanwhile, would see its youth team lose its spot in the tournament, and the country may face greater repercussions and exclusion from FIFA and world football in the future. Though Indonesians are obsessed with the beautiful game, the country has virtually nothing to show in terms of achievements on the international stage. Indonesian football made the rare global headlines when excessive police force led to the death of 135 fans at a football game in Malang, East Java on Oct. 1, 2022.
Despite rejections by local politicians and groups, Palestine’s Ambassador to Indonesia Zuhair Al Shun went on record last week with Kompas as saying he has no beef with Israel participating in the tournament, acknowledging that Indonesia is bound by FIFA’s rules and regulations as host.
Nonetheless, Al Shun met with President Joko Widodo on March 27 to express his gratitude for Indonesia’s unwavering support of the Palestinian cause.