Indonesia Says It Will Host U-20 World Cup Amid Israel Participation Controversy


By Tria Dianti and Arie Firdaus

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Tuesday said sports and politics should not mix and his country would host the FIFA U-20 World Cup despite a controversy over Israel’s participation in the tournament because of its conflict with Palestinians.

He invoked reported remarks by Zuhair Al Shun, the Palestinian ambassador to Indonesia, who said he understood Indonesia’s obligation to host all qualified teams in line with the rules of FIFA, international football’s governing body.

“As far as the U-20 World Cup is concerned, we agree with the Palestinian ambassador to Indonesia, that FIFA has rules that must be obeyed by its members. So, don’t mix sports with politics,” Jokowi said.

“I guarantee that Israel’s participation has nothing to do with our consistent foreign policy position on Palestine because our support for Palestine is always strong and firm,” Jokowi said in a televised address.

Jokowi also said that he had sent Erick Thohir, president of the Indonesian Football Association, to meet with FIFA officials in Zurich to seek the best solution for the situation.

Indonesia has prepared six stadiums for the U-20 World Cup, with the final match set to be held in the Central Java city of Solo, Jokowi’s hometown, where his son is mayor.

But the country’s plan to host the May 20 to June 11 tournament is said to be in jeopardy after FIFA postponed the tournament’s draw, which was to take place on March 31 in Bali, following calls by politicians and Muslim groups to ban Israel.

Media reports said FIFA was considering transferring the right to host the tournament to another country, with Qatar, Peru or Argentina being in contention.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has no diplomatic relations with Israel. It has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights and statehood for decades.

Still, over the past few years, at least three Israeli athletes have competed in international sporting events in Indonesia.

The most recent was Mikhail Yakovlev, a Russian-born cyclist who won a bronze medal in a track race in Jakarta in February after becoming an Israeli national in August 2022.

Climber Yuval Shemla participated in a World Cup event in Jakarta in September 2022. And in 2015, Israeli badminton player Misha Zilberman played in the World Championships in Jakarta.

Additionally, a delegation from the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, attended a meeting organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Bali last year.

Earlier this month, Bali Gov. I Wayan Koster, a member of Jokowi’s ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, said he would not welcome Israel’s team on his Hindu-majority island, citing Israel’s “continuing occupation” of Palestinian land. 

Last week, Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo, a presidential hopeful, said he, too, was opposed to Israel’s participation.

“We are aware of Bung Karno’s commitment to Palestine, both expressed in the Asia-Africa Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Conference of the New Emerging Forces. So, we follow his stance,” said Ganjar, referring to Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno.

‘Still inspecting the stadiums’

Some analysts said sports should not be politicized, but acknowledged football often has political implications.

“FIFA also banned Russia from participating in international events for invading Ukraine, which is also a form of politicization. So FIFA’s stance doesn’t show that football is detached from politics,” Reza Widyarsa, an international relations lecturer at Paramadina University, told BenarNews.

Yet, Indonesia could face sanctions from FIFA if it continued to reject Israel’s participation, some analysts said.

“The cancellation of the draw was due to political maneuvering by politicians in violation of FIFA’s rules,” Akmal Marhali, an Indonesian football analyst, told BenarNews.

Indonesian players, though, remain hopeful the tournament could be held without a hitch.

“We have been preparing for a long time,” a player who spoke on the condition of anonymity for privacy reasons told BenarNews.

“We hope we can still play in the World Cup, because it is the dream of football players.”

A member of the Indonesian football association said he believes the country is on track to host the tournament because there has been no official communication transferring hosting rights.

Preparations for the tournament are continuing, including the inspection of stadiums in Indonesia by FIFA representatives, said Arya Sinulingga, a member of the association’s executive committee.

“If it’s canceled, they will all go home,” he said.

“But up until now, they are still inspecting the stadiums.”


BenarNews’ mission is to provide readers with accurate news and information that reflects the complex and ever-changing world around them. With homepages in Bengali, Thai, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and English, BenarNews brings timely news to its diverse audience. Copyright BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews

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