Soccer-‘Buried dreams’: Players, fans dismayed as Indonesia dumped as U-20 World Cup host

By Ananda Teresia

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian players and fans were dismayed on Thursday after the country was dropped as host of the Under-20 soccer World Cup following outrage among politicians in the predominantly Muslim nation about Israel’s participation.

Soccer’s world governing body FIFA stripped Indonesia of hosting rights on Wednesday over what an Indonesian official said was a failure to honour its commitments to the tournament.

FIFA made the call after Indonesia’s football federation (PSSI) said it had cancelled the draw for the tournament because the governor of Bali refused to host Israel’s team.

FIFA took the decision following a meeting between its President Gianni Infantino and PSSI Chairman Erick Thohir.

One Indonesian national team player blamed politicians.

“We sacrificed our time, thoughts, sweat and even blood. But it suddenly failed due to your political reasons,” striker Rabbani Tasnim Siddiq said on Instagram.

Another player, Hokky Caraka, said he had lost the chance to fulfil a “life goal to make my parents proud, scoring goals in the U-20 World Cup”.

President Joko Widodo was “sad and disappointed” over FIFA’s decision, but said it must be respected.

“Don’t waste your energy blaming one another. As a big nation we have to look toward what’s in front, not behind,” he said on Thursday, adding he had instructed Thohir to work on avoiding FIFA sanctions “including the chance to host other international events.”

Indonesia does not have formal ties with Israel and has long been a supporter of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Protesters marched in Jakarta this month demanding Israel not be allowed to participate in the tournament.

The head of an Indonesian fans’ association, Ignatius Indro, said PSSI and the government should ensure politics did not interfere in football.

The loss of hosting rights was a national failure, he said.

The sport has a massive following in Indonesia despite the lack of international success since qualifying for the 1938 World Cup as the Dutch East Indies.

PSSI said losing hosting rights would harm the national side’s chance of taking part in other FIFA tournaments.

The tournament is still scheduled to be held from May 20 to June 11 in a location yet to be announced.

The stripping of the hosting rights also means Indonesia loses its automatic berth in the tournament.

“We have buried the dreams of our own children,” coach Nova Arianto said.

(Reporting by Ananda Teresia; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Peter Rutherford, Martin Petty)