FIFA strips Indonesia of U-20 World Cup finals over opposition to Israeli participation

By Paul Nicholson

March 29 – FIFA has stripped Indonesia of hosting the U-20 World Cup 2023 following turmoil over the participation of Israel in the finals.

Last week the draw for the 24-team finals that was due to take place this Friday (March 31) was postponed at the last minute after local politicians protested Israeli’s inclusion.

FIFA said that the decision to remove the hosting rights from Indonesia was taken following a meeting in Doha today between FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) president Erick Thohir.

FIFA said that despite the short notice the dates for the U20 finals currently remain unchanged and that “a new host will be announced as soon as possible”.

“Potential sanctions against the PSSI may also be decided at a later stage,” said FIFA.

Israel’s debut in the U20 finals had been causing unease in Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country.

The ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) has been critical of Israel’s participation, while Bali’s governor Wayan Koster had written to the Ministry of Youth and Sports imploring them to “adopt a policy forbidding the Israeli team from competing in Bali” due to the conflict with Palestine.

“Previously, Bali governor Wayan Koster rejected the presence of the Israeli national team in the FIFA U-20 World Cup event… This can be a reason for FIFA to cancel the U-20 World Cup draw, because, for FIFA, the governor’s refusal is the same as cancelling the organising guarantee that has been issued by the Bali provincial government.” the PSSI said in a statement last week that has proved to be a prophetic precursor to FIFA stripping the rights from Indonesia.

PSSI Executive Committee member Arya Sinulingga has expressed his concern over what the cancellation of the draw could mean for Indonesia saying: “We’re still trying to figure out a way for Indonesia not to be ostracised by the global football community.”

While FIFA in its statement has said sanctions may still be applied, it also said it was still committed to helping football in Indonesia following the stadium stampede last year at a domestic game in East Java that left 135 fans dead.

“FIFA would like to underline that despite this decision, it remains committed to actively assisting the PSSI, in close cooperation and with the support of the government of President Widodo, in the transformation process of Indonesian football following the tragedy that occurred in October 2022. Members of the FIFA team will continue to be present in Indonesia in the coming months and will provide the required assistance to the PSSI, under the leadership of President Thohir,” said FIFA.

But before then FIFA has to find a host at short notice capable of hosting the U-20 finals.

Argentina are reportedly said to be interested, despite not qualifying for the finals. However, the preference would likely be to keep the finals in Asia where interest and engagement has been building for the tournament.

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