Bali may host Israeli soccer team for U-20 World Cup next year

The Israel’s youth national football team is qualified to play at the 2023 U-20 World Cup Event in Indonesia. Photo: Israel Football Association.
The Israel’s youth national football team is qualified to play at the 2023 U-20 World Cup Event in Indonesia. Photo: Israel Football Association.

Indonesia is finding itself in an awkward situation as it prepares to host the 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, as it must find a way to allow Israel’s youth national soccer team to take part in the competition despite the lack of diplomatic ties between the two nations.

The Muslim-majority nation is reportedly mulling Bali, the country’s Hindu-majority island, to host all of Israel’s matches during the competition.

The Israeli team qualified for next year’s U-20 World Cup after securing a spot in the semifinal round at the 2022 U-19 EURO Cup in Slovakia. In addition to France (Israel’s opponent in the semifinal), England and Italy are eligible for next year’s U-20 World Cup, set to take place from May 20 to June 11, 2023 in Indonesia.

Local news outlets reported that Indonesia’s National Football Association (PSSI) considered a solution where Bali would host the Israeli players during their stay in Indonesia, and that all of their matches would take place at Kapten I Wayan Dipta Football Stadium in Gianyar.

PSSI secretary general Yunus Nusi said that the association would accommodate Israel as agreed by them and the central government last year when they discussed the matter.

“They [Israel team] will be in the [tournament’s] group in Bali or other regions, we will communicate later,” Yunus said.

Separately, PSSI deputy secretary general Maaike Ira Puspita revealed that she had heard about the proposed solution, but conceded that there have been no internal discussions within the association about it.

“The 2023 U-20 World Cup is FIFA’s event. So, FIFA will decide where Israel will be,” she said yesterday.

Maaike added that there are still other issues for PSSI to resolve in order for Indonesia to host the tournament, including improving the quality of the six venues, namely Jakabaring Stadium in Palembang, Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta, Si Jalak Harupat in Bandung, Manahan in Solo, Gelora Bung Tomo in Surabaya, and Gianyar’s I Wayan Dipta.

On Tuesday, Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali stated on his official website that Indonesia would host “all countries that have qualified for the 2023 U-20 World Cup.”

“That problem (Israel’s eligibility) has been in discussion since 2019,” he said, adding that per the agreement between PSSI and FIFA, soccer and politics should be separated.

Indonesia has long been a strong supporter of Palestine and, officially, has no diplomatic relations with Israel. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, ini his last presidential campaign, reiterated that the nation sides with Palestine and support their fight for independence.

This is not the first time that Indonesia has been put in an awkward situation involving Israel in sports events.

In 1957, President Soekarno instructed the Indonesian soccer team to forfeit their match with Israel. PSSI, at the time, proposed for 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 by the government, saw the team be subject to a fine and a ban from the tournament the year after.

Interestingly, Indonesia had, in fact, hosted an Israeli national for a sporting event, when Israeli shuttler Misha Zilberman plied his trade at the 2015 Badminton World Championships in Jakarta.

It took Zilberman six months to send all 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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