Dicky Christanto, Jakarta – The Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) has been warned to tread carefully with its latest plan to reopen its soccer leagues, Liga 1, Liga 2 and Liga 3, since there is still no end in sight to the country's COVID-19 pandemic.
The warning was issued by a sport expert, following the PSSI's announcement, made by acting secretary-general Yunus Nusi, that it had allowed the league operator, PT Liga Indonesia Baru, to organize the format and duration of the leagues in the beginning of next year.
"It is mandatory to continue the leagues. But the PSSI and league operators must remain vigilant because we still cannot see the end of this COVID-19 pandemic right now," Djoko Pekik Irianto, a sport expert at Yogyakarta State University, told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
"If the pandemic is abating, then the PSSI could go ahead with its plan and invite a limited number of spectators as a precaution," he added.
To date, Indonesia has recorded 400,483 people infected with the virus, 325,793 of whom have recovered and 13,612 of whom have died.
Ignatius Indro of the National Team's Supporters Association criticized the announced timeline, saying that continuing the leagues early next year would only lead to a tight schedule that in the end would drain players' stamina and increase the probability of injuries.
He then mentioned that April 13 next year would be the start of the fasting month of Ramadan. Just after that, the preparations for the U-20 World Cup will take place.
"Of course we are longing to see some soccer matches, but not ones that are likely to hurt the players," he said.
He regretted that the announcement did not provide any detail, seeing this as a blatant failure by the PSSI to provide transparency right from the start.
"The PSSI should come up with an entire plan from the start so the public can have the complete picture about the leagues," he said.
As for the soccer fans, he went on, Indonesian supporters were ready to comply with the regulations issued by the league operators, whether they are allowed to go to the stadium or not, but then demanded that the operator communicate it to them first.
"Basically, Indonesian soccer fans are mature enough to understand the message, even if it prevents them from seeing their favorite clubs," he said.
PSSI media officer Eko Rahmawanto had previously said the PSSI had complied with strict health protocols that met FIFA and WHO standards, requiring multiple tests for every player and official before, during and after matches, among other measures.
Thus, Eko said, the PSSI and the league operators were technically up and ready to organize the leagues.
The PSSI's plan to continue the leagues in October and November had been denied by the police due to the soaring cases in many parts of the country.
When asked whether the National Police had issued any permission for the PSSI to continue the leagues, National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Argo Yuwono said briefly that no permission had been given to date.
Months without soccer competitions has been hard on sport stakeholders, especially players, who acknowledged that the situation in 2016 when FIFA prohibited the PSSI from organizing soccer competitions due to allegations of the government's interference in the sport, was nothing compared to the pandemic, which has left them with nearly zero income.
The PSSI has allowed clubs to pay their players with only 25 percent of their normal salaries since April due to the pandemic. The decision sparked protest from the International Federation of Professional Soccer Players Associations.
The federation regretted that the PSSI had made the decision without prior consultation with them.