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Two yellow cards

Jakarta Post Editorial - July 15, 2023

Jakarta – Back in March, facing staunch opposition to the Israeli national team's participation in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which Indonesia was expecting to host, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo told the nation that the show must go on, that sports and politics must not be mixed.

But as we know, his message fell on deaf ears. The country squandered its opportunity to host the tournament and, in doing so, lost a large measure of international trust.

FIFA moved the tournament to Argentina in response to Indonesia's partisan bickering, which had pitted Jokowi against his purported allies in the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), including his potential successor Ganjar Pranowo.

Israel ultimately finished third in Argentinian competition. Indonesia did not qualify.

But our international sporting embarrassments did not stop there. Indonesia recently singlehandedly torpedoed the second ever World Beach Games, which were slated for next month in Bali. The people behind the country's bid to land the event, almost all of them politicians, will square off in the February 2024 elections, and their deep political biases and persistent bickering show Indonesia was not ready to host the games in the first place.

The Indonesian Olympic Committee (KOI) claimed the country had withdrawn from its beach games hosting duties because of financial constraints. In response to the last-minute pullout, the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) canceled the games altogether, saying there was not enough time to find a replacement host.

The inaugural edition of the World Beach Games was held in Doha in 2019. In October 2021, the ANOC General Assembly approved Indonesia as host of the second edition, which meant the country had almost two years to prepare the venues and train the athletes who would don the national colors.

The debates that have followed Indonesia's disgraceful exit reveal a troubling lack of commitment to ensuring the beach games were a success. Youth and Sports Minister Dito Ariotedjo, a member of the Golkar Party, said the government could only afford to allocate Rp 446 billion for the games, far below the Rp 1 trillion proposed by the organizing committee.

Bali Governor Wayan Koster claimed the province was all set for the beach games and never had any intention to boycott the event. Previously, Koster sparked the U-20 controversy by publicly opposing the Israeli youth team's participation in the tournament, citing solidarity with Palestine.

Following Koster's U-20 statement, the opposition to Israel's participation snowballed and climaxed with FIFA's decision to revoke Indonesia's right to host the event. Speculation was rife that Koster and Ganjar were playing the Islamic card on behalf of the PDI-P to woo Muslim voters ahead of the 2024 election.

Many were suspicious that squabbles over Israel were behind the failure of the World Beach Games as well, but KOI chairman Raja Sapta Oktohari said late in April that Israel was not among 69 national teams registered for the event.

Whatever Indonesia's excuse for abandoning its beach games hosting duties, the country will face consequences. The immediate impact is the loss of revenue from the international tourists who would have visited Bali to watch the games. Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno estimated the potential losses at $13.15 million, excluding economic multiplier effects.

While financial losses can be recuperated relatively easily, Indonesia will have to fight hard to restore its reputation in the eyes of the world sporting community. Indonesia has been dreaming of hosting prestigious events like the Olympics Games and FIFA World Cup, but the world is now wondering how we can be trusted to deliver a successful event given our U-20 and World Beach Games failures.

Jokowi was right to call for the separation of sports and politics. But to achieve this, politicians must first end their deep entanglements with sports organizations, a coziness that clearly runs counter our national interests.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/07/14/two-yellow-cards.htm