FIFA strips Indonesia of U-20 World Cup hosting rights

FIFA has removed Indonesia as host after the island of Bali refused to host Israel for tournament draw; new host to be announced soon.

Indonesia Israel protest
Protesters march in Jakarta against the Israeli team's participation in the FIFA World Cup Under-20 in Indonesia [Achmad Ibrahim/AP Photo]

Indonesia has been stripped of the right to host the Under-20 football World Cup, FIFA has said in a statement after protests against Israel’s participation led to the cancellation of the tournament’s main draw.

Global football’s governing body announced its decision on Wednesday, following a meeting with the Indonesian football federation’s (PSSI) President Erick Thohir, and said a new host country would be announced “as soon as possible” with the tournament set to start on May 20.

PSSI had cancelled the draw for the tournament on Sunday, after the governor of the largely Hindu island of Bali refused to host Israel’s team.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, while publicly supporting the Palestinian cause.

“FIFA has decided, due to the current circumstances, to remove Indonesia as the host of the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023,” a FIFA statement said.

“A new host will be announced as soon as possible, with the dates of the tournament currently remaining unchanged. Potential sanctions against the PSSI may also be decided at a later stage.”

Earlier this month, protesters marched in the capital Jakarta waving Indonesian and Palestinian flags and demanding Israel not be allowed to participate.

“Indonesia is a FIFA member, so for any international soccer matters, we have to abide by the rules,” Thohir said in a statement on PSSI’s website.

“I ask all football lovers to keep their heads held high over this tough decision by FIFA. It’s time we proved to FIFA to work harder to transform soccer, towards clean and high-achieving soccer.”

On Tuesday, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo spoke against mixing matters of “sports and politics”.

“I hereby guarantee Israel’s participation has nothing to do with the consistency of our foreign policy position towards Palestine, because our support for Palestine is always strong and sturdy,” he said in a livestreamed address.

Economic loss and fear of sanctions

The PSSI said 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”.

The Indonesian football federation could be further disciplined by FIFA. A suspension could remove Indonesia from Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup, which starts in October.

FIFA and public authorities in Indonesia agreed to FIFA’s hosting requirements in 2019 before being selected to stage the 2021 edition of the Under-20 World Cup. The coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to be postponed for two years.

As host, Indonesia automatically qualified for the Under-20 World Cup, but it has not played in the tournament since 1979.

Israel qualified for its first Under-20 World Cup in June.

It is unclear who could now host the tournament, which was scheduled to be played in six stadiums in Indonesia.

Argentina, which did not qualify for the tournament, is reportedly interested in hosting.

FIFA said that it was committed to aiding the PSSI following a deadly stampede last year that led to the deaths of 135 spectators at a stadium in East Java in October.

“Members of the FIFA team will continue to be present in Indonesia in the coming months and will provide the required assistance to the PSSI, under the leadership of President Thohir,” FIFA said in the statement.

“A new meeting between the FIFA President and the PSSI President for further discussions will be scheduled shortly.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies