FIFA has postponed the 2023 Under-20 World Cup finals draw in Indonesia amid protests in the country over Israel’s participation in the competition, the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) announced on Sunday, four days before the drawing was set to take place.
FIFA was expected to reveal on March 31 on the island of Bali the 24 nations that would take part in the competition being held from May 20-June 11 across six cities in Indonesia. This would have been Israel’s first time competing in FIFA’s Under-20 World Cup after qualifying for the tournament in June when it reached the semifinals of the Under-19 European Championship.
PSSI said in a released statement that while it did not receive an “official reason” from FIFA as to why the drawing event has been cancelled eight weeks before the World Cup was set to start, it believes the decision was made because Bali Governor Wayan Koster refused to allow the Israeli national soccer team on his island, citing the Indonesian government’s support for the Palestinian cause.
Hundreds also protested in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta last week against Israel’s participation in the Under-20 World Cup while chanting “Allahu Akbar” and “Get out Israel from U-20 World Cup.” Protesters waved white flags that featured the Islamic declaration of faith along with Indonesian and Palestinian flags. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and the country has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel.
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PSSI explained that Koster previously signed an agreement to have Bali become one of the venues for the U-20 World Cup, including its drawing, but his decision to ban Israeli athletes from the island goes against that agreement.
PSSI Executive Committee member Arya Sinulingga is concerned about facing disciplinary actions from FIFA and said, “We from PSSI are thinking about saving Indonesian football. Because FIFA sanctions can isolate Indonesian football from the world.” He added that PSSI Chairman Erick Thohirwill will work with the Indonesia Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and with the Ministry of Youth and Sports “to find a solution to all of this both in diplomacy and foreign policy to save Indonesian football, which we love.”
He also asked soccer fans in Indonesia to be patient as PSSI tries “to find the best solution.”
Indonesian authorities agreed to FIFA’s hosting requirements before it was chosen to host the 2021 Under-20 World Cup, which was then postponed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Associated Press reported. PSSI’s President Erick Thohir, a former co-owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, is currently a member of the International Olympic Committee.
PSSI explained that if it fails to now resolve its issues with FIFA over hosting of the 2023 U-20 World Cup, Indonesia’s national soccer teams risk being sanctioned or suspended by FIFA from participating in future soccer events, which would affect Indonesia’s ability to qualify for the 2026 World Cup and result in economic losses that would amount to “trillions of rupiah.” Indonesia will also not have another chance to be selected by FIFA to host another sporting event, including the 2034 World Cup, and the association also fears that this incident will affect the country’s chances of hosting other sports competitions, such as the Olympics.
“Players, coaches, referees, clubs and communities will lose their livelihoods and more than 500,000 people will be directly affected if Indonesian football stops,” PSSI said, adding that if the issue is not resolved, “Indonesia will be criticized for acting discriminatory, mixing sports with politics.”
Indonesia were previously suspended by FIFA for almost a year because of government interference and the suspension was lifted in May 2016, according to Reuters.