Indonesia is set to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup from May to June, but things got awkward after Israel booked their place in the tournament, due to the lack of formal diplomatic relations between the two nations.
One of the proposed solutions was to make Bali, the Muslim-majority country’s Hindu-majority island, the host of all of Israel’s matches during the competition. Gianyar’s I Wayan Dipta Stadium is one of the venues that has been picked to host the major tournament.
However, Bali Governor Wayan Koster has rejected the idea, citing Israel’s conflict with Palestine as the main reason.
In a letter sent to Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali, which has spread widely online, Koster appealed to the minister to forbid the Israeli team from competing in Bali.
“We, the Bali Province administration, reject Israel’s participation in Bali,” wrote Koster in the letter.
Koster confirmed the authenticity of the letter to CNN Indonesia.
Jakabaring Stadium in Palembang, Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta, Si Jalak Harupat in Bandung, Manahan in Solo, and Gelora Bung Tomo in Surabaya are the other venues picked to host matches for the tournament.
Last year, Zainudin Amali stated on his official website that Indonesia would host “all countries that have qualified for the 2023 U-20 World Cup.”
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the highest Islamic clerical body in the nation, recently called on the government to explain how they will accommodate the Israeli team without compromising Indonesia’s stance against Israel. The council is also set to hold an audience with 77 Islamic organizations to hear their opinions on the matter.
Meanwhile, National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo already stated team Israel will be afforded the same protection and security as teams from other nations while they are here.
Indonesia has long been a strong supporter of Palestine and, officially, has no diplomatic relations with Israel. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, during his last presidential campaign, reiterated that the nation sides with Palestine and supports their fight for independence.
This is not the first time that Indonesia has been put in an awkward situation involving Israel’s participation in sports events.
In 1957, President Soekarno instructed the Indonesian soccer team to forfeit their match against Israel. PSSI (Indonesian Football Association), at the time, proposed a “neutral” country to host the match-up, but FIFA rejected the idea.
In tennis, the Indonesian Billie Jean King Cup team refused to play Israel in a world play-off in 2006. The decision, also reportedly due to an instruction from the government, saw the team subjected to a fine and a ban from the tournament the year after.
Interestingly, Indonesia has, in fact, hosted an Israeli national for a sporting event. In 2015, Israeli shuttler Misha Zilberman plied his trade at the 2015 Badminton World Championships in Jakarta.
It took Zilberman six months to send all the documents necessary for him to enter Indonesia. Still, he was reportedly stuck in Singapore at some point due to issues with his Indonesian visa. The shuttler managed to fly to Indonesia at the eleventh hour and, despite having to be given a series of protective measures for his own safety, managed to compete at the prestigious tournament.
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