Frustration and sadness in Indonesia after FIFA pulls the Under-20 World Cup

After protests against Israel’s participation, FIFA withdrew the Under-20 World Cup host nation from Indonesia on Thursday. This was a result of the anger and sadness expressed by fans, pundits, and football players in Indonesia. Two influential governors urged Israel to be excluded from the competition, leading to this humiliating loss. Indonesia and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations. Support for the Palestinian cause is high in Indonesia’s largest Muslim-majority country.

This has fuelled local opposition to the Israeli team hosting. FIFA’s decision not to select a new host, thereby eliminating Indonesia’s automatic qualification spot, puts the country’s most beloved sport back in the lurch and makes it vulnerable to another bout of isolation after suffering a stadium stampede last year that left 135 people dead.

After being denied the opportunity to play in the tournament of tomorrow’s stars, some of the archipelago’s football prodigies took their frustrations to social media.

“Energy and time, sweat, blood, and even blood have been put in, but it was ruined by political reasons. Rabbani Tasnim, a 19-year-old striker, wrote: “Here’s our big dream you’ve destroyed.”

A video of the Indonesian football association showed players bowing their heads and their coach crying after hearing that FIFA was looking for a new host.

Thursday morning saw flower boards for players placed outside the central Jakarta football association headquarters. One of them said “do you ever give up on your dreams?”

After he had opposed Israel’s participation, Indonesians flooded Ganjar Pranowo’s Instagram page with negative comments.

Wayan Koster, the governor of Bali, had joined the anti-Israel chorus. Around 100 conservative Muslim protesters also held an anti-Israel rally at Jakarta this month.

Koster cited “threats and security” concerns and the occupation of Palestinian lands as reasons for refusing Israel’s participation. He compared his request for a ban to exile from 2022 World Cup Qatar following Moscow’s invasion.

‘Very painful’

In a statement, the Democratic Party of Struggle (the powerful, nationalist ruling party of Widodo & Koster) expressed regret at the decision, but stated that it wanted Israel to play in its games in “the closest neighbouring country”.

The tournament was well-received by the public, with many seeing it as a source for national pride.

Although Jakarta promised to guarantee Israel’s participation, despite its propalestinian stance. However, the opposition voices were too loud for FIFA.

“This is a really painful incident for the Indonesian population. “Those who made noise and made us fail… should be held accountable,” Akmal Marhali, an expert on football watchdog Save Our Soccer said.

Officials from Indonesia claimed that losing the tournament could result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.

FIFA threatened to impose further sanctions on Indonesia and could ban it from the 2026 World Cup qualifiers, which begin in October. Over government interference, it was banned for one year in 2015.

For Indonesia’s passionate fans, however, the worst thing was losing their first major football tournament.

Jarnawi, a 40-year-old supporter who goes by only one name like many Indonesians, said that she was disappointed.

The country’s game has been plagued by fan violence and a weak infrastructure for a long time.

It was the clash between politics and sport that cost the tournament the final prize many had hoped for.

“We’re talking about young people who love soccer. Justin Lhaksana, a pundit, stated that they have no other interests.

“Why is this issue blindly mixed in with political games?”