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March 29, 2023 10:58 am

FIFA Removes Indonesia as Host of U-20 World Cup Over Opposition To Israel’s Participation


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures as he talks during an interview at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 1, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Soccer’s world governing body FIFA announced on Wednesday that Indonesia will no longer host the 2023 men’s Under-20 World Cup set to start on May 20 amid protests in the host country over Israel’s participation in the competition.

Without specifying details, FIFA said the decision was made “due to the current circumstances” following Wednesday’s meeting between FIFA President Gianni Infantino and President of the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) Erick Thohir. The dates of the tournament, expected to run from May 20-June 11, will not change and a new host country will be announced “as soon as possible,” FIFA noted, adding that “potential sanctions against the PSSI may also be decided at a later stage.”

“FIFA would like to underline that despite this decision, it remains committed to actively assisting the PSSI, in close cooperation and with the support of the government of [Indonesia’s] President [Joko] Widodo, in the transformation process of Indonesian football following the tragedy that occurred in October 2022,” FIFA explained, referencing the stampede at a stadium in Indonesia last year that resulted in the death of 135 people.

Protests took place in Indonesia’s capital last week against Israel’s expected participation in the U-20 World Cup, in which 24 teams will compete across six cities in Indonesia.

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FIFA also postponed the draw for the competition in response to the protests, where demonstrators chanted “get out Israel from U-20 World Cup” and after the governor of the Indonesian island of Bali refused to allow the Israeli national soccer team on his island. Bali was supposed to host the drawing and agreed to be one of the venues for the U-20 World Cup.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and the country has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel. This would be the first year that Israel will compete in the U-20 World Cup after qualifying in June when it reached the semifinals of the Under-19 European Championship.

Before FIFA’s announcement was made on Wednesday, President Widodo said in a live stream address that while sports and politics should not be mixed, Indonesia will not change its foreign policy position toward the Palestinian cause “because our support for Palestine is always strong and sturdy.”

Widodo further reiterated Indonesia’s support for a two-state solution, and said Israel’s qualification for the U-20 World Cup was decided on long after his country was chosen to host the World Cup.

Indonesia were suspended by FIFA for almost a year until May 2016 because of government interference, according to Reuters. PSSI said last week that it fears the issues with FIFA concerning Israel’s involvement in the World Cup will result in the country facing sanctions or suspensions from participating in and hosting future soccer events, including the 2026 World Cup, the 2034 World Cup and the Olympics.

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