Losing the privilege to host the Under-20 World Cup: FIFA

Losing the privilege to host the Under-20 World Cup: FIFA
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FIFA has announced that Indonesia has been stripped of its right to host the under-20 football World Cup due to the country’s football federation cancelling the draw after the governor of Bali refused to host Israel’s team. FIFA’s decision was made following a meeting between the world football governing body’s president Gianni Infantino and PSSI Chairman Erick Thohir. Indonesia’s population is predominantly Muslim, and there has been a rise in religious conservatism in recent years that has crept into politics. Losing hosting rights would harm Indonesian football teams’ chances of taking part in other FIFA tournaments, while the economic losses would amount to “trillions of rupiah”.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo welcomed the participation of Israel in the Under-20 World Cup, hosted by the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, despite widespread protests at home. Widodo stressed that hosting the Israeli junior football squad will not change its foreign policy with regard to the Jewish state. However, some 24 hours after making that statement, FIFA stripped Indonesia of the right to host the junior tournament.

Muslim nations, including Indonesia, have largely been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and many do not enjoy formal diplomatic ties with Israel. Widodo and his supporters’ push for an ‘ideological shift’ – that sports and politics do not mix – could have created a precedent of sorts for other Muslim nations in the region and beyond, if the island nation had hosted the event.

Ironically, Bali Governor Wayan Koster was among those who had protested against Israel’s participation. Bali’s population is predominantly Hindu, which led to suggestions that Koster’s call was politically motivated, ahead of the national polls next year. This is an unusual scenario, where the key decision-makers in the country were willing to give sports diplomacy a chance, only to see opposition from those with different political beliefs. As a result, Indonesia scored an own goal and may suffer serious repercussions, including sanctions.

Indonesian officials are now working hard to minimize the impact of FIFA’s decision to host the Under-20 elsewhere. Indonesia cannot afford to be spurned by FIFA. Football is the No. 1 sport in the country, and any action that could jeopardize the team’s appearances in international tournaments would certainly anger the passionate fans of the Garuda.

If hosting the Under-20 had been well played, Indonesia could have inked its name in the history books for allowing sports to connect communities and transcend ideologies, religion, ideals, and political beliefs. Instead, this latest flap is another example of how sports diplomacy has, yet again, failed in its ethos of bringing people together. It would seem that sadly, sports and politics do mix.

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