Welcoming Israeli soccer team

Editorial board (The Jakarta Post)

We applaud the determination of the newly elected chairman of the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) Erick Thohir who has asserted Indonesia’s readiness to host the Under-20 World Cup from May 22 to June 11 and provide security to all participants, the Israeli team included.

During its congress in Rwanda this week, world soccer’s governing body FIFA will surely seek Indonesia’s assurance of a warm reception for all the finalists, including Israel, and their safety during their stay in Indonesia.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has no diplomatic ties with Israel and has been an avid champion of Palestine’s independence from Israeli occupation under a two-state solution mechanism.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, like his predecessors, has stated that Indonesia will never open diplomatic relations with Israel until Palestine gains its independence.

“Indonesia’s position on the issue of Palestine has never changed and remains consistent. Indonesia is one the few countries that is persistent in supporting the cause of the Palestinian people,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah told a press conference last Friday.

Israel has repeatedly tried to persuade Indonesia to follow in the footsteps of several Arab countries, which have recognized the Israeli state, despite protests from Palestinians. Then-United States president Donald Trump offered major investment to Jokowi in exchange for Indonesia opening diplomatic relations with Israel.

Israel has qualified for the U-20 tournament and Indonesia will compete as the host. The upcoming arrival of the Israeli team has ignited a furor in the country, but as a good host Indonesia should not mix sports with politics. The government, in this regard, is responsible for the safety of the Israeli team to prove its compliance with the FIFA ruling.

In the past the government has prohibited Indonesian athletes from playing Israeli opponents and has denied entry to Israelis to any tournament held in Indonesia in a show of solidarity with Palestine.

In 2006 Indonesia was fined and almost expelled from the International Tennis Federation after withdrawing from the Fed Cup tournament held in Tel Aviv. In 2015, although reluctantly, Indonesia granted a visa to Israeli badminton player Misha Zilbermain who qualified for the World Championship in Jakarta.  

The World Cup matches will be held in several cities across Indonesia. They are Jakabering Stadium in Palembang, South Sumatra; Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta; Si Jalak Harupat Stadium in Bandung, West Java; Manahan Stadium in Surakarta, Central Java; Gelora Bung Tomo Stadium in Surabaya, East Java; and Kapten I Wayan Dipta Stadium in Gianyar, Bali.

During a meeting with President Jokowi last October, FIFA president Gianni Infantino confirmed that the soccer tournament would remain in Indonesia as planned, despite a recent stadium stampede that left 132 people dead.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said recently the government had been well prepared politically and diplomatically to protect the Israeli soccer team, as well as other squads.

The World Cup will feature 22 teams. They are Indonesia, which automatically qualifies as the host, Italy, England, Dominica, Guatemala, Honduras, the US, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Fiji, New Zealand, Slovakia, France, Israel, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, Tunisia,  Iraq and Uzbekistan.

Indonesia has played host to many prestigious sports events, including the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang in 2018, and the second stop of the Moto Grand Prix in Mandalika Circuit on Lombok Island, West Nusa Tenggara, in March last year. Indonesia also hosted the Group of 20 Summit in Bali last November.

The upcoming tournament will provide a golden opportunity for Indonesia and its enthusiastic fans to directly observe the emergence of the world’s future soccer talent. Many of the young players will someday rise as stars, or at least form the backbone of national World Cup teams.

It would be too much to expect Indonesia to match the world-beating opposition in the tournament, considering its ranking, which is outside the top 100. But who knows, there might be a miracle.

We welcome all teams, including the Israelis, to Indonesia. As a proper host, Indonesia will do what it takes to make sure all the guests are safe and sound. 

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