On March 29, the International Association Football Federation (FIFA) announced that it was removing Indonesia as host of the Under-20 (U-20) World Cup football competition that was scheduled to kick off on May 20. FIFA said that Argentina would step in as the replacement. Taking away Indonesia’s rights to hold the tournament not only thwarted the aspirations of young Indonesian football players to participate in the apex tier of global youth football but it also spurred mourning and discontent among a majority of sports enthusiasts across the nation.
FIFA’s revocation of Indonesia's hosting privileges was linked to the participation of Israel’s national football team in the event, which triggered consternation in Indonesian political circles. Parties and national and regional leaders, as well as some civic organizations, were dismayed by the prospect of the inclusion of the Israeli squad. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, known popularly as Jokowi, supported Israel’s joining, issuing a plea for people and parties to keep the realms of sport and politics separate.
The attitude of those who were against Israel’s appearance, including those concerned about safety and security, was puzzling since in the past Indonesia has welcomed Israeli athletes at events without incident and with little if any controversy. In 2015, for example, badminton player Misha Zilberman competed in the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships in Jakarta. As recently as February 2023, Michael Yakovlev raced in the International Cycling Union (UCI) Track Nations Cup also in Jakarta. Outside the sports world, in March 2022 in Bali, a delegation from the Israeli Knesset attended the 144th General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Bali, despite Israel and Indonesia not having diplomatic relations.
FIFA’s decision was made after certain Indonesian officials called for the central government to bar Israel for participating in the U-20 World Cup. After Wayan Koster, the governor of Bali, which with Sumatra and Java was to host matches, sent a letter to the national minister of sports on March 14 to protest the appearance, some 100 people demonstrated in Jakarta to press the same message. “We, the Bali Province administration, reject Israel’s participation in Bali,” Koster wrote. “This event cannot be separated from humanitarian principles, as mandated by the Constitution and Bung Karno,” a reference to Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president. The governor noted that the Indonesian Constitution calls for the universal end of colonialism and that the country has supported statehood for the Palestinians since its independence in 1945. He suggested that, if Bali permitted the Israelis to play, Islamic terrorists could target the Hindu island known for cultural and religious tolerance.
Koster was not alone in citing the 1945 Constitution as grounds for banning the Israeli football squad. The pertinent passage is the initial paragraph of the preamble to the charter which affirms that “indeed, independence is the right of all nations and hence colonialism over the world must be abolished, given because it is not in accordance with humanity and justice”.