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Jakarta Post

Young Garuda’s triumph offers hope amid soccer fiasco

  • Dicky Christanto

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, March 9, 2019   /   09:20 am
Young Garuda’s triumph offers hope amid soccer fiasco Indonesian midfielder Sani Riski Fauzi (L) and forward Marinus Wanewar (R) kiss the championship trophy as the team celebrate after winning the AFF U-22 Cup 2019 finals football match between Indonesia and Thailand at the National Stadium in Phnom Penh on February 26, 2019. (AFP/TANG CHHIN Sothy)

Frustration over the way this country manages — or mismanages — soccer, the most popular sport on earth, is completely understandable.

The ongoing investigation into match-fixing practices in the second and third leagues, in the course of which acting Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) chief Joko Driyono was named a suspect for allegedly destroying evidence, indicates that many troubles plaguing the sport have been swept under the carpet for too long.

Soccer aficionados felt a déjà vu every time the PSSI failed to take disciplinary action against errant players or officials. As violations keep happening, the soccer body is putting its credibility on the line. A lack of discipline shown in and off the field is apparently the root cause of Indonesia’s failure to reach the heights even at the Southeast Asian level.

Amid the dismay, the national Under-22 team’s recent victory in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship looks to rekindle the country’s dream of international glory, but the question is how to make it come true.

Having kept the nation’s hopes alive, the junior team deserves appreciation, including Rp 200 million (US$13,972) in cash for each of the players from the Youth and Sports Ministry, plus a red carpet welcome by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo at the State Palace. An elated junior team coach Indra Sjafri said he was impressed by the government’s reception, which eluded him when he led his Under-19 squad to victory in the regional tournament six years ago.

In front of Indra and his players, Jokowi pledged his support for the national team and soccer development. It could be just political rhetoric, as the presidential election is just over a month away, but regardless of who leads the country, government support — rather than interference — is what national soccer needs. The success in the AFF U-22 Championship can mark a new start for the country to revive its past supremacy.

Coach Indra, the architect behind the triumph, is a valuable asset for the country. He has proven not only that training and hard work pay off but also that integrity and professionalism remain the name of the game.

Indra, the head of a post office in West Sumatra before starting his coaching career, has been widely acknowledged for his talent-scouting skill. He is among the few people who dare to walk down an empty lane, avoid publicity and dig into their own pockets to discover “gold” far away. He insists on cherry-picking his protégés and turning them into good players. Egy Maulana Vikri, who now plays in the Polish premier league, Muhammad Rafly of Arema FC and Muhamad Luthfi of Mitra Kukar are among the recruits of Indra’s army.

There were times when Indra failed too. His U-19 team suffered a 4-0 thrashing by South Korea and another 4-1 rout by Malaysia in its futile campaign in the pre-Asia Cup in Paju, South Korea, last year. As his dignity dictates, Indra resigned as coach.

His display of professionalism and integrity is a pivotal pillar Indonesia needs to rebuild the PSSI. Since we know from the old motto that “like attracts like” and inviting a man of principle like him would inspire others to follow suit, why not include him in the group that will be entrusted to reform the PSSI?

Well, this could be an uphill battle, as we know that the majority in the current PSSI may have different views on how things should be done and what direction we need to go into.

A critical voice from inside the PSSI hinted that, up to this day, despite the massive police crackdown on reportedly rampant match-fixing involving the elite in the soccer body, they still talk different languages. He said in the PSSI universe, money was the only value. Without money, the PSSI could not even gather its voting right holders.

“Where is the money?” was the initial response whenever the PSSI called for a meeting to talk about national soccer, another source said.

Soccer watch Save Our Soccer coordinator Akmal Marhali said the hunt for cash explained why many within the PSSI would choose money over the national team’s achievement. Match-fixing clearly is a source of money.

Of course, there are also many who want the PSSI to clean up the mess and promote integrity, but Akmal said they were simply outnumbered and unable to bring about change, even though they held strategic positions in the soccer body.  

Akmal recommended persistent and mounting public pressure to change the game. As long as the public kept the issue of PSSI reform afloat and it got the attention from everyone, including the government, efforts to restore PSSI’s credibility and hence the country’s performance would bear fruit. The police could support the cause if they caught not only small but also big fish in their probe into match-fixing practices.