U-20 World Cup Fiasco: Insight & Analysis

Kompas.com, Indonesia’s leading news portal, has published a devastatingly insightful analysis of FIFA’s dramatic cancelation of the U-20 World Cup from Indonesia under an article published with the headline “When Political Gimmicks Get out of Hand Resulting in a Blundersome Cancellation of the U-20 World Cup in Indonesia.”

While the International Football Federation’s (FIFA) Governing Board did not explicitly state the reason why Indonesia’s hosting of the prestigious U-20 World Cup was canceled, the withdrawal of the games coincided with a much-publicized letter from the Governor of Bali calling on the Central Government to ban the Israeli U-20 Team from their rightful qualification to participate in the Indonesian-based World Cup. Governor Kosters move received the immediate backing of Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo.

Bali Governor I Wayan Koster and Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo

While several regional leaders, political parties, and public organizations (ormas) have joined the hardline anti-Israeli stance on Indonesia’s hosting of the U-20, the lion’s share of the media’s spotlight is now focused on the Governor of Bali Wayan Koster, the Governor of Central Java Ganjar Pranowo, and the PDI-P Political Party headed by former Indonesian president Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Political posturing? The Executive Director of the Institute for Democracy and Strategic Affairs (Indostrategic), Ahmad Khoirul Umam, speaking on Friday, 31 March 2023, said he suspects there are parties trying to play politics in the planned hosting of the U-20 World Cup. These efforts, Uman postulates, were pursued for political profit on a personal level by specific individuals. Adding: “Yesterday, President Jokowi said that sports should not be linked with politics; that is a na├»ve stance. Obviously, some want to play politics.”

Exec. Director, Institute for Democracy and Strategic Affairs (Indostrategic), 
Ahmad Khoirul Umam

The Kompas.com article alleges that FIFA’s decision did not reflect the political agenda of certain political provocateurs who were perhaps only seeking to ban Israeli athletes from Indonesia. Instead, their actions have precipitated widespread public anger against those seen as having cost the Nation the hard-fought bid to host the U-20 World Cup.

Umam, The Indostrategic Director, concludes that the “provocateurs were careless, too engrossed in playing political tricks, failing to anticipate FIFA’s reaction and persuade them to embrace their domestic political aspirations.” Continuing, Umam said that Ganjar Pranowo and Wayan Koster need help to understand the dilemma’s context but prefer to play gimmicks to prevent the Israeli team from participating in the U-20 World Cup. Umam characterized Central Java Governor Ganjar as trying to portray himself as a PDI-P loyalist embracing the political philosophy of Indonesia’s first president Soekarno.

Who’s Pulling the Strings in U-20 World Cup Fiasco

The Chief Executive for Central Java wants to show he cares about Palestine’s struggle and humanitarian issues. He hoped that the U-20 World Cup Competition would continue in Indonesia, but with Israel excluded from participating. 

FIFA’s reaction, however, was quite different from that sought by Indonesian politicians. Suddenly, Indonesia was removed from hosting the U20 World Cup by FIFA. Umam depicted FIFA’s response: “Not only a slap in the face to the Jokowi government, but Ganjar’s public stance also left the Central Java Governor branded by some as a ‘gimmicky leader’ who does not understand the strategic context of the Jokowi government’s policies.” Despite widespread online public mockery being heaped on Governor Ganjar and Governor Koster, Umam said President Joko Widodo has refrained from criticizing the two Governors. The President has seen their acts as not reflective of their attitude but as something done at the urging of the PDI-P political party.  

Umam continued, “If this is the case, it is unlikely that Jokowi will take revenge on Ganjar because the maneuver seems little more than a gimmicky political strategy.” Although Indonesia is a democracy, Umam does not rule out the possibility that Ganjar and Koster’s public posings are part of a larger political agenda operated by the party whose logo is an angry bull with a white snout (PDI-P), led by Megawati. 

The political observer and respected academic questioned if the PDI-P miscalculated in using the incident to ward off any possible accusations that the ruling political party was pro-Israel. Moreover, the party led by former Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri also wants to show its commitment to Soekarno’s anti-colonial values.

Depicting the anti-Israeli move as intended to attract positive support from Muslims, nationalist voters, and the PDI-P electorate, Umam added: “This means that Jokowi already understands the strategy, but there were miscalculations regarding FIFA’s stance and reactive decision (to cancel Indonesia from hosting the U20 World Cup).”

Umam, the political strategist and analyst, thinks Governor Ganjar’s future electability as an aspiring presidential candidate suffered damage from the recent political maneuverings. Umam postulates that Ganjar, the leading contender for presidential office in Central Java, is viewed, particularly by young voters and football fans, as the man to blame for Indonesia losing the precious right to host the U-20 World Cup.

Umam, who also serves as a Paramadina University lecturer, says Ganjar needs to find arguments that will mitigate his culpability in the damage inflicted on Indonesia’s football aspirations.

Ganjar has spoken out about canceling Indonesia as the host of the U20 World Cup by FIFA. The Governor of Central Java admitted he was disappointed. “Yo, I’m disappointed. Our people have prepared (for the World Cup) from the start,” said Ganjar on Thursday, 30 March 2023. Asked about netizens who are now attacking him on social media because he is considered the reason for the cancellation of the U20 World Cup in Indonesia, Ganjar does not question this assertion. According to him, he made a risky decision. “Always, it’s a risky decision. If you want, attack Ganjar, but don’t attack my wife, don’t attack my child,” he said.

Ganjar accepts the anger of people commenting on social media blaming him for the loss of the U-20 World Cup for Indonesia. Depicting the public outcry and outrage as “a risk of any decision.” Adding: “Please attack Ganjar, but don’t attack my wife; don’t attack my children.”

Separately, Bali Governor I Wayan Koster said he saw the revocation of Indonesia’s hosting role for the U-20 World Cup creates a new moment to build an atmosphere of safety, security, and peace for Indonesian football’s future. Although he did refuse to receive the Israeli Soccer Team in Bali, the Governor admits he had no desire to see Indonesia lose the host role for the World Cup. In response, Ganjar is now doubling-down, calling on FIFA to expel Israel from FIFA membership ending their participation in the U-20 World Cup. “This is similar to when the Russian team was banned from World Cup play in Qatar in 2022,” explained Koster.

The Secretary-General of the PDI-P Party, General Hasto Kristiyanto, has come to the defense of Ganjar and Koster. Praising the firmness and resolve shown by the two men in opposing Israel’s participation at the U-20 World Cup in Bali, Hasto says “that within the context of choosing a candidate for a leadership in the legislature, ministers, president, and vice presidents – the people want a solid leader,” said Hasto on Thursday, 30 March 2023. According to Hasto, his party regrets and is saddened by FIFA’s decision to cancel Indonesia from hosting the U20 World Cup. He said the PDI-P never wanted that.

However, Hasto insists that his party’s stance against refusing the Israeli National Soccer Team was based on the constitution and history. He denied that PDI-P’s stance was related to political agendas, let alone electoral interests.

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