FIFA’s cancellation of Indonesia for the U-20 World Cup: Who’s to Blame, Who’s the Victim?

FIFA's cancellation of Indonesia for the U-20 World Cup: Who's to Blame, Who's the Victim?


FIFA's cancellation of Indonesia for the U-20 World Cup: Who's to Blame, Who's the Victim? Hokky Caraka expressing his disappointment through an Instagram post (Source: Instagram @hokkycaraka_)

FIFA announced the cancellation of Indonesia as the host for the 23rd U-20 World Cup on March 29th 2023, rendering the country’s long preparation for the much awaited sporting event fruitless. The announcement stunned the Indonesian public who were in the midst of a political turmoil regarding Israel’s participation in the event, caused by parties and individuals publicly declining the country to play in the competition. FIFA is set to announce a new host as soon as possible with no changes to the dates, alongside a potential set of sanctions that would be imposed on Indonesia’s football association, PSSI.

The decision was taken by FIFA due to a multitude of reasons. Although the official statement on their website did not address the ongoing political discourse or mention Israel by name, it is not unreasonable to speculate that the cancellation was in order to avoid further rejection and potential violence that may happen towards the football players. Instead, FIFA only elaborated that the motive for the decision was due to “current circumstances” while also mentioning the Kanjuruhan tragedy of October 2022, hinting at Indonesia’s inadequacy to hold a high scale football event.

Response and Impact

The majority of Indonesian football fans said that the cancellation of the FIFA U-20 World Cup was a shame. Although FIFA had stated that the cause of the cancellation was The Kanjuruhan Tragedy that occurred in October 2022, Indonesian football fans thought that politicians and public figures who mix the matter of politics and football also played a huge role. Many of them expressed their disappointment in the personal account of Ganjar Pranowo, the governor of Central Java who publicly declined the Israeli national team to compete in the world cup. Public outrage was also aimed at other politicians and public figures who opposed Israel’s participation, implying that they were the cause of Indonesia’s cancellation as host.

FIFA's cancellation of Indonesia for the U-20 World Cup: Who's to Blame, Who's the Victim?

Public protest in Indonesia rejecting Israel’s participation in the 23rd U-20 World Cup (Source: Indonesia in FIFA talks after U-20 World Cup Israel protests | The Japan Times)

The Indonesian national team also expressed their disappointment. Hokky Caraka, Indonesian national team striker told the press: “It feels very disappointing. We had worked hard yet it got canceled.” The 18-year-old striker then recounted the chronology of when they were told the news. “We knew the news through social media first before the coach told us to gather downstairs. When we knew that (the cancellation), we were very sad. Some of the players were so sad that they cried. Perhaps we were the victims. We didn’t know anything, we only wanted to play football, not anything else.”

”We only wanted to play football, not anything else”

 –    Hokky Caraka

Not only did it leave the Indonesian football national team and fans sad and disappointed, it also caused the Indonesian government a huge loss. The Ministry of Public Works and Public Housing of the Republic of Indonesia stated that the renovation budget for the stadiums that were going to be used cost up to Rp 410 billion. In addition, businesses will be directly affected by the cancellation. The hospitality sector in Central Java had predicted that the high level competition would be their “peak season” due to the other national teams booking the most comfortable hotels and tourists who are looking for a place to stay. With the cancellation of the U-20 World Cup, that potential of a large revenue source is gone. Benk Mitosih, vice president of The Central Java Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association quoted: “Our members are disappointed because the hope of a peak season is gone.”

Is Israel to blame?

Although there are no official diplomatic ties between the Indonesian and Israeli governments, it is not a secret that both countries have relations in other sectors such as trade, tourism, and the defense industry. In recent years, there has been a slew of Israeli tourists entering Indonesia to visit places such as Bali, and vice versa with Indonesian tourist groups visiting the many religious holy sites located in Israel. Representatives from Israel’s parliament have even visited Indonesia to attend the 144th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly which was held in Bali last year. 

FIFA's cancellation of Indonesia for the U-20 World Cup: Who's to Blame, Who's the Victim? Israel’s flag on display at the 144th IPU Assembly in Bali (Source: Twitter @AviKaner)

That begs the question, why then did Israel’s would-be participation in the U-20 World Cup invoke such a large controversy in Indonesia, when in fact Israelis have been in Indonesia since quite a while ago? The reason might be as simple as just “football”. Being the most popular sport in the world (especially since it’s the first time for Indonesia to host such a high level football event in its history), the issue would naturally be widely discussed by everyone. That includes politicians who are keen to let you know of their rejection, and as the nation with the highest population of muslims in the world, the preexisting high resentment towards Israel can be weaponized for their political interests. That’s how parties and individuals who oppose Israel’s participation in Indonesia were able to attain such a large mass to support their views. 

Although some argue that politics should never be associated with sports, Indonesia should have anticipated this issue and prepared accordingly if we wanted to abide by FIFA’s rules as a host. Even Palestine’s Ambassador to Indonesia, H.E. Zuhair Al-Shun stated that Israel’s participation had nothing to do with the ongoing support Indonesia has for Palestine. As a last minute effort to de-escalate rising public tensions, President Joko Widodo through an official statement reassures Indonesia’s stance: “I guarantee that Israel’s participation has nothing to do with the consistency of our foreign policy towards Palestine. So please, do not mix sports and political affairs.”

However, these efforts proved futile. In the end, Indonesia has to accept the decision from FIFA and carry on with the loss, even with so much effort that has been put into the preparation. The damage is not exclusive to Indonesia’s sporting scene, but also economically, and to an extent politically. The true victims here are the young prospective Indonesian football players with bright futures ahead of them who were robbed of their debut on the international stage. The victims may also be the many businesses having to throw away their investments for a very rare opportunity of a peak season. Maybe, this is a sign for Indonesia to clean up its notoriously problematic football association and the deeply rooted tradition of hooliganistic violence in the sport. Maybe, only then will we be bestowed upon the trust and honor to hold such a prestigious event once again. 

At the time of writing this article, FIFA’s 2022 World Cup winner Argentina has officially entered a bid to replace Indonesia as host for the 23rd U-20 World Cup.

Penulis: Fareez Eldacca & Fathya Kayla
Editor: Rifia Azka Nabila

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