Under-20 World Cup: Indonesia FA plans FIFA talks amid protests over Israel

The head of the Indonesia Football Association (PSSI) plans to hold talks with FIFA officials after the draw for the Under-20 World Cup due to take place in the Southeast Asian country was postponed amid protests over Israel’s participation.

Erick Thohir, who is also a senior cabinet minister and a former chair­man of Inter Milan, will fly to Zurich for the talks, PSSI Executive Com­mittee member, Arya Sinulingga said.

Arya told Reuters flight arrange­ments were still being made and did not say which FIFA officials he was expected to meet.

Indonesia is due to host the 24-team tournament from May 20-June 11. However, PSSI last Sunday said it had cancelled the draw scheduled to take place on Friday after the gov­ernor of the largely Hindu island of Bali refused to host Israel’s team.

Wayan Koster had urged the Ministry of Youth and Sports to “adopt a policy forbidding the Israeli team from competing in Bali” due to the conflict with the Palestinians, media reported, citing a letter sent by Koster.

Koster’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The governor told media on Monday that he was following a “government stance”.

Indonesia’s population is predom­inately Muslim and most practice a moderate version of Islam, though a rise in religious conservatism has crept into politics in recent years.

The country does not have formal diplomatic ties with Israel, and protesters have recently held marches in Jakarta, demanding Israel not be allowed to participate.

Reuters contacted the Israeli FA for comment.

The cancellation of the draw has raised fears Indonesia might lose its hosting rights for the tournament and plunge the sport in the country into isolation again after it was suspended from FIFA for a year until May 2016 due to government interference.

Indonesia is also trying to rebuild its reputation after a stampede at a stadium in East Java last year which led to the deaths of 135 spectators. Many were crushed as they fled for exits after police fired tear gas into the crowd.

Arya has said PSSI hoped through coordinating with the government a solution could be reached whereby politics could be separated from sport.

Muhadjir Effendy, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for Human Development and Cultural Affairs, was quoted by state news agency Antara as saying the PSSI chief’s talks meant “at least FIFA will understand Indonesia’s position.” –—Reuters

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