Starting today, soccer fans nationwide will have an alternative league with the kick-off of the Indonesian Premier League ( LPI ) at Manahan Stadium in the Central Java city of Surakarta, featuring host Solo FC and star-studded Persema Malang.
The competition has sparked controversy, with the Indonesian Football Association ( PSSI ) branding the new professional league fielding 19 clubs as illegal because it would be held without the national soccer body’s consent. The LPI, backed by businessman Arifin Panigoro, was initiated after the national soccer congress in Malang, East Java, in April last year due to concerns about the continuing poor run of Indonesian teams at the international level.
PSSI justifies its rejection of the rival league based on the 2005 law on national sports, which stipulates that organizers of a sports event that may attract crowds must obtain a recommendation from the sport’s ruling body. However, the LPI has secured support from Youth and Sports Minister Andi Mallarangeng, and received a green light from the Indonesian Professional Sports Body ( BOPI ) as well as the police. BOPI, which was established two years ago, is tasked with assisting the Youth and Sports Ministry in organizing and monitoring professional sporting events.
The new league promises quality soccer with the entry of former Indonesian champions Persebaya of Surabaya, PSM of Makassar, Persibo Bojonegoro and Persema Malang, which boast new soccer idol Irfan Bachdim and newly naturalized player Kim Kurniawan. The four clubs will risk having their rank downgraded, and their players may be deprived of their chances to don the national colors as a result of their decision to quit the PSSI-sanctioned Indonesian Super League ( ISL ).
For better or worse, PSSI’s resentment with the new league looks to be an exaggeration, given the fact that it has already been responsible for organizing four regular soccer leagues in the country: ISL, Premier Division, Division I and II. It will be wiser for PSSI to consider LPI a worthy contribution to its efforts to develop national soccer and restore the country’s pride in the soccer world.
LPI arrives just in time as soccer fever is rife, regardless of the country’s recent failure to win the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time. Such enthusiasm needs to be sustained by organizing more competitions, including the LPI. The more competitions, the more talents will be discovered and better players will make the national team.
What makes LPI different from other PSSI-sanctioned leagues is its financial independence. For a long time clubs participating in the competitions under PSSI auspices have relied on regional budgets that have at times been contradictory to the principles of professionalism the soccer body has been promoting. The budgets should have been allocated for public services, infrastructure development, education, healthcare and other pro-people programs.
Perhaps PSSI chairman Nurdin Halid and other officials should recount PSSI’s founding mission.
Soeratin Sosrosoegondo established the organization back on April 19, 1930, to unite Indonesian youths against the Dutch colonials. The spirit of unity, rather than rivalry, is all that the Indonesian football community needs to rebuild its soccer supremacy.
Indonesians have been waiting too long for the trophies that have eluded PSSI.