Indonesia was stripped Wednesday of its hosting duties for the 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, sending shock waves through the soccer world just weeks before the tournament was scheduled to begin.
FIFA, the international soccer federation, did not spell out the reasons for its decision, saying only on its website that it decided, “due to the current circumstances, to remove Indonesia as the host of the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023.”
The decision followed a meeting between FIFA President Gianni Infantino and President of the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) Erick Thohir, where the topics under discussion included demands from some Indonesian officials that the Israeli team not be allowed to participate in the tournament.
However, the FIFA statement also alluded to “the tragedy that occurred in October 2022,” an apparent reference to a riot at an Indonesian soccer match that killed 125 people in Kanjuruhan, East Java.
FIFA said a new host will be announced as soon as possible, and the dates of the tournament — May 20-June 11 — are currently unchanged. Potential sanctions against the PSSI also may be decided at a later stage.
Earlier this week, officials postponed the draw, which had been scheduled to be held Friday in Bali to determine the matchups in the first round of the tournament. That came after the governor of Bali refused to host Israel’s team.
Governor I Wayan Koster sent a letter early this month to the Youth and Sports Ministry asking it to “adopt a policy forbidding the Israeli team from competing in Bali.” Ganjar Pranowo, the governor of Central Java and the front-runner for the 2024 presidential election, subsequently joined calls to block the Israeli team from playing in the tournament.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict is a key issue for Indonesia as the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, which broadly supports the Palestinian cause for religious reasons and in keeping with an anti-colonial sentiment dating to its independence.
In his written statement, Thohir said, “I have tried my best. After delivering a letter from [Indonesian] President Joko Widodo, and having a long discussion with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, we must accept FIFA’s decision to remove Indonesia as the host of FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023.”
Widodo on Tuesday asked those who protested the Israeli team not to mix sports and politics, underscoring that Israel’s participation in the U-20 meant no change to Indonesia’s foreign policy position toward Palestine.
The loss of hosting rights is a major setback in Indonesia, where football has a huge following, despite the lack of international success since qualifying for the 1938 World Cup as the Dutch East Indies.
Protesters marched in the capital, Jakarta, this month waving Indonesian and Palestinian flags and demanding that Israel not be allowed to participate.
As hosts, Indonesia automatically qualified for the U-20 World Cup, but the country has not played in the tournament since 1979.
Some information from Reuters was used in this report.