Indonesia in FIFA talks after protests at U-20 World Cup in Israel

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said Tuesday he would send the country’s football governing body for talks with FIFA over hosting the U20 World Cup after the draw was scrapped following protests over Israel’s participation.

The two countries have no formal diplomatic ties, and support for the Palestinian cause in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation is strong, stoking local opposition to accepting the Israeli team.

Widodo said he dispatched Erick Thohir, the head and minister of state-owned enterprises at the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI), when there was uncertainty over the venue of the competition.

“I sent PSSI chief Erick Thohir to meet with the FIFA team to look for the best solution,” Widodo said in a livestreamed speech.

He did not say when Thohir – a former chairman of Inter Milan – would fly or which FIFA officials he would meet.

The meeting will be held in the Qatari capital, Doha, PSSI official Eko Rahmanto told AFP on Wednesday. Indonesian officials initially said he would meet with FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, where world football’s governing body is headquartered.

The fixtures for the 24-nation tournament, which starts in May, were due to be selected in Bali on Friday, but FIFA canceled the event without giving a reason or setting a new date.

Indonesian officials said the Bali governor, who called for Israel to be kicked out of the cup over its policy towards the Palestinians, was likely behind the cancellation of the draw.

Around a hundred conservative Muslim demonstrators also demonstrated in the capital Jakarta this month to protest Israel’s involvement.

FIFA is yet to comment on the tournament and its venue after the draw was scrapped.

The Indonesian president said sport and politics should not clash after calls to remove Israel from the tournament.

“I guarantee that Israel’s participation has nothing to do with the consistency of our foreign policy towards Palestine. Because our support for Palestine is always strong and firm. So don’t mix sport with politics,” he said in the video.

Widodo’s intervention came as fears grew that Indonesia could face sanctions and isolation on the global football stage if it could not guarantee Israel’s participation.

The country would also hold the tournament under the cloud of one of the worst stadium disasters in the sport’s history, after 135 people died in a stadium raid in East Java in October.


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