Stadium disaster Pravda loses in Indonesia U-20 World Cup | World Cup News

Soccer-loving Indonesians have been left upset after their country was stripped of hosting rights to the Under-20 World Cup by FIFA, following local objections to the Israeli team’s participation.

Indonesia was due to host the U-20 World Cup on the island of Bali at the end of May, but when Israel’s youth national team qualified for the tournament, staunchly pro-Palestinian Indonesia faced a sporting dilemma that soon turned political.

But some in Indonesia say the controversy surrounding the FIFA Youth World Cup has distracted from a far more pressing issue: justice for the 135 people who died in a stampede at a soccer stadium in Indonesia’s East Java late last year.

Indonesia should not even have been considered to host the U-20 World Cup after the Kanjuruhan Stadium tragedy – one of the worst disasters in football history, critics say.

“The authorities did everything they could to avoid justice, both criminal and civil, and played with the lives of hundreds of people,” said a father who lost two children in the stadium disaster.

“Why did anyone think it was okay for justice for the souls of the dead and their families to be ignored while the World Cup was allowed?

Indonesia has given up on housekeeping

FIFA issued a statement this week citing “current circumstances” as the reason for Indonesia’s removal as host of the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

FIFA did not provide further clarification, adding only that an alternative host country would be announced as soon as possible.

But the move came after Indonesian politicians and conservative groups condemned Israel’s inclusion in the U-20 World Cup, and Bali Governor Wayan Koster in March asked the country’s then-Minister of Youth and Sports, Zainuddin Amali, to ban the Israeli team from “out of respect ” according to Indonesia’s diplomatic stance towards Palestine.

“[There is no] diplomatic relationship between the Indonesian government and the Israeli government. We ask the minister to adopt a policy banning the Israeli team from competing in Bali,” Koster wrote on March 14.

Australian footballer Robbie Gaspar, who spent eight years playing professional football in Indonesia, told Al Jazeera the decision to move the tournament was “devastating for the country and devastating for the game”.

“Indonesians are so passionate about soccer and I know how deeply it will be felt,” said Gaspar, who is president of the Indonesia Institute, a non-governmental organization based in Perth, Australia.

    A man walks past the FIFA U-20 World Cup outside the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) office, after the country was rejected as the host of the U-20 World Cup, following anger among politicians in the Muslim-majority country over Israel's participation, in Jakarta, Indonesia, 30 . March 2023. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
A man walks past the FIFA U-20 World Cup on March 30, 2023, outside the Indonesian Football Association office in Jakarta [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Israeli “colonialism” in Palestine

A senior Indonesian political official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that the government’s position on Israel is based on Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution, which states that “all forms of colonialism in the world are abolished”.

Colonialism is an Indonesian term that refers to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

“It is not easy to ask Indonesia to have diplomatic relations with Israel as a country,” the politician said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo tried to find a way to reconcile the two sides, which led Erick Thohir, president of the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI), as well as Indonesia’s Minister of State Enterprises, to fly to Zurich, Switzerland to meet with FIFA officials. personally.

“Finding solutions for Indonesian football will not come so easily; I will do my best. Please pray for all of us,” Thohir told the media before leaving for the ill-fated mission.

Thohir was elected PSSI president in February just as the government sought to reform Indonesian football after the devastating Kanjuruhan Stadium stampede on October 1 that killed 135 spectators in the East Java city of Malang.

On that fateful night, police fired volleys of tear gas into the field and stands after a perceived invasion of the field at the end of a football game between angry rival teams.

In the chaos that ensued, fans rushed for the exits – some of which were locked – causing a deadly stampede.

The families of the 135 victims were left outraged and disappointed in mid-March when two officers were acquitted without charge and another was sentenced to just 18 months in prison for his role in the deadly incident. The results followed a trial that was plagued by allegations of intimidation.

Two match officials were jailed even though an investigative team set up by Widodo concluded that tear gas was the main cause of the crowd surge. Indonesia’s human rights body came to the same conclusion. The use of tear gas, banned in stadiums by FIFA, was “indiscriminate” and “excessive”, the human rights body said.

A father who lost two children that night in October believes Indonesia’s World Cup loss is divine retribution for the mishandling of the Kanjuruhan Stadium tragedy, he said

“I believe in God’s judgment and I believe this was indeed his judgment for all of them,” the father told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity as he is in the witness protection program while awaiting the outcome of two other cases against police in Malang.

“Obviously, the souls of those who died – and God – did not agree” with holding the tournament, he said.

Focus on the victims

Imam Hidayat, a lawyer representing some of Kanjuruhan’s victims’ families, told Al Jazeera that the Indonesian FA should focus on the fallout and ongoing court proceedings instead of rolling out red carpets for the World Cup.

FIFA should also have known better and not be “hypocritical” in choosing to host the event in Indonesia.

Indonesian police fire tear gas clouds as they stand on the pitch after the Arema vs Persebaya match at Kanjuruhan Stadium
A riot policeman fires tear gas after a BRI League 1 soccer match between Arema and Persebaya at Kanjuruhan Stadium, Malang, East Java Province, Indonesia on October 2, 2022, during which 135 people were killed [File: Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ari Bowo Sucipto/via Reuters]

Accountability for stadium deaths should remain the focus of the government and the FA, even if the current furor over the Israeli team is seen as “sexier”, he added.

PSSI did not respond to requests for comment on FIFA’s decision.

FIFA briefly mentioned the tragedy in Kanjuruhan in its official statement about the World Cup decision.

“FIFA wishes to emphasize that despite this decision it remains committed to actively assisting PSSI, in close cooperation and with the support of President Widodo’s government, in the process of transforming Indonesian football following the tragedy that occurred in October 2022.”

For Gaspar, a former professional footballer, FIFA’s decision deprived Indonesia of an opportunity to bond over a shared appreciation of the beautiful game.

“Indonesians love their football and when the national team plays, you can really feel the whole country coming together around a common theme,” explained Gaspar.

“They have been planning this for a long time and, from a former player’s point of view, Indonesia would put on a fantastic World Cup,” he said.

“Unfortunately, politics and sport should not mix, and now they do, with devastating consequences.”

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