Soccer’s world governing body FIFA has stripped Indonesia of its right to host the Under-20 Men’s World Cup later this year after an Indonesian official objected to the participation of Israel.
“FIFA has decided, due to the current circumstances, to remove Indonesia as the host of the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023,” FIFA said in a statement, without providing further clarification. “A new host will be announced as soon as possible, with the dates of the tournament currently remaining unchanged.”
The statement said sanctions against the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) were also possible.
A total of 24 teams were scheduled to play in the youth tournament across six Indonesian cities from May 20 to June 11. Israel have qualified for the first time.
Arya Sinulingga, a member of the PSSI executive committee, told CNN on Thursday that FIFA’s decision stemmed from the refusal by one regional Indonesian leader to host matches if Israel took part.
Wayan Koster, governor of the resort island of Bali, had sent a letter to Indonesia’s sports ministry requesting Israel be banned from competing in the province, Arya said.
“The governor of Bali also stated in the letter that the provincial government of Bali refused (to allow) the Israeli team to compete in Bali,” he added.
CNN has reached out to the Bali governor for comment but has not received a response.
The official draw for the tournament was scheduled to take place in Bali this week but was canceled.
Soccer is hugely popular in Indonesia, but violence and mismanagement have plagued its leagues for decades. The country is still reeling from one of the world’s deadliest stadium disasters, in which at least 135 people were killed and more than 300 others injured at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, in October.
Gaining the hosting rights to the U-20 World Cup had been a significant step for Indonesian soccer and losing the tournament threatens to damage the country’s reputation within the sport.
Indonesia, a Muslim majority nation of more than 270 million people, does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel and supports the cause of the Palestinians.
Anti-Israeli sentiment runs high among conservative Muslims in Indonesia and earlier this month, protesters marched in the capital Jakarta demanding the government ban Israel from playing in the tournament.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo appealed to the public in a televised address on Monday, reiterating Indonesia’s support for the Palestinians but also stressing the country must follow FIFA regulations, according to state news agency Antara.
“Do not link sports issues with political affairs,” he reportedly said.
PSSI president Erick Thohir said he pleaded Indonesia’s case to FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Wednesday, which included showing him a letter from the Indonesian President.
“I have tried my best. We must accept FIFA’s decision to cancel the holding of the event that we are both looking forward to,” Thohir said in the statement. “Because we are members and FIFA considers that the current situation cannot be continued, we must submit.”
Thohir, a former owner and chairman of Italian giants Inter Milan, said Indonesia must prove to FIFA that it would “work harder to transform football (and) toward clean football and achievements.”
Arya, the Indonesian football association official, said the soccer community in the Southeast Asian country was “very disappointed” with the decision and officials were lobbying FIFA not to impose further sanctions.
“The worst sanction that Indonesia can receive is the banning of the Indonesian national team from competing internationally and the non-recognition of the Indonesia football league,” he said.
FIFA said it will continue to work with Indonesia and the PSSI “in the transformation process of Indonesian football following the tragedy that occurred in October 2022,” referring to the East Java stadium disaster.
“A new meeting between the FIFA president and the PSSI president for further discussions will be scheduled shortly,” the statement said.