Bali, protests against Israel: Fifa suspends U20 World Cup draw
by Mathias Hariyadi

The island's governor has sent a letter to the Ministry of Youth and Sports against the participation of the Jewish State, supported by his own party's presidential election candidate. According to observers, this is a political move to gain support from the conservative fringes ahead of next year's voting.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The World Football Federation (FIFA) has suspended the draw for the under-20 World Cup scheduled for 31 March in Bali, after the island's governor, Wayan Koster, sent a letter to the Ministry of Youth and Sports demanding Israel's withdrawal from the competition.

The local leader said he wanted to deny access to any Israeli athletes - despite the fact that dozens of Israelis may visit the island for tourism.The issue has also been raised in recent days by Ganjar Pranowo, the current governor of Central Java and a candidate in next year's presidential elections.

According to several commentators, the criticism of Israel - with which Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, has no formal diplomatic relations - is meant to gain more support for the elections scheduled for February 2024, while the organisers hoped that by hosting the tournament in Bali, which has a Hindu majority, there would be less opposition to the Jewish state's participation.

Both Koster and Pranowo belong to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan, Pdip), a nationalist party led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's first president Sukarno and herself president in the early 2000s. In recent weeks, a hundred Muslim conservatives also organised a protest march in the capital Jakarta.

Fifa has not yet issued an official letter of cancellation, Arya Sinulingga, head of the Indonesian Football Federation, said today. 'We have no idea when and where the draws and the opening ceremony will take place after Fifa's decision,' Sinulingga added.

The federation confirmed that all 24 teams that qualified for the World Cup, scheduled to be held in Bali from 20 May to 11 June 2023, would attend the event. 'It would be embarrassing if only 23 teams participated in the opening ceremony,' commented Akmal Marhali, who founded the group 'Save our Soccer'.

The expert and football fan criticised Koster's letter, which was circulated on social media and generated a debate about the presence of Israelis on Indonesian soil for tourism. Thousands of Indonesian pilgrims, on the other hand, try to visit the Holy Land every year using external Israeli services in Singapore.

In the past, Indonesia has repeatedly expressed concern about the Israeli occupation and harsh actions against Palestinians, while conservative religious groups have repeatedly used the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to organise rallies and show Jakarta's political support for the Palestinians.