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Jakarta Post

Indonesian soccer dreams

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, November 7, 2019   /   09:08 am
Indonesian soccer dreams We are the champions: Players from the Indonesian Under-16 soccer team celebrate winning the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) U-16 Championship at Delta Sports Stadium in Sidoarjo, East Java. Indonesia beat Thailand 4-3 in a penalty shootout. (JP/Aman Rochman)

English Premier League giant Arsenal reportedly indicated interest recently in Indonesian U-19 team striker Amiruddin Bagus Kahfi, but the Gunners could not realize their bid because of a rule forbidding any English club from signing players from countries ranked below 70th in the world. The talented teenager, who helped Indonesia win the U-16 ASEAN Football Federation Cup last year, lost a chance to join one of Europe’s best clubs, as Indonesia only ranks 171st.

Not just Kahfi but all the country’s soccer talents, regardless of their skills, will have to bury their dreams of playing in the world’s most prestigious league unless Indonesia’s FIFA ranking skyrockets. While miracles don’t happen overnight, joining the club of 70 is hardly an impossible mission.

Making dreams come true for Kahfi and all the country’s players is the challenging task that lies before new Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) chief Mochamad Iriawan, who was elected almost unanimously at the national soccer body’s extraordinary congress over the weekend.

Iriawan, nicknamed Iwan Bule, told the congress he would strengthen efforts begun by his predecessors, including developing the junior, second and third-tier leagues as part of the regeneration of the national team. He also pledged to put any vested interests behind him in serving his four-year term.

Winning the coveted post with support from all but one elector is ideal start-up capital for Iriawan as it lends strong legitimacy to his leadership of the soccer body. Nobody would doubt his leadership skills, given his illustrious career, which includes a stint as Jakarta Police chief during the tumultuous gubernatorial election of 2017 and as acting governor of West Java last year.

Prior to the extraordinary PSSI congress, many had questioned his credentials in the sport. It turned out he was eligible to contest the election for PSSI chairmanship thanks to his role as an adviser to Bandung-based club Persib since 2009 and his involvement in the Vamos Indonesia program, which sent 10 young Indonesian players to a training camp in Spain last year.

Commitment and leadership surely matter to the PSSI, which has been mired in internal feuds and match fixing. The arrest of several PSSI executives, including its former chairman, over their involvement in match-fixing practices indicate that the problem with Indonesian soccer stems from people abusing their mandate to develop the sport for their own benefit.

Since Iriawan has joined the PSSI at a time when the police are investigating match-fixing cases plaguing Indonesian soccer, it is only natural for the public to expect the police general to intensify the fight against such practices, which many say have continued unabated for decades.

To up Indonesia’s game on the global soccer stage, Iriawan has to prioritize the fight against match fixing, given the overarching and destructive impact of the practice on our soccer talent. The big fish in match fixing remain untouched and pose a lasting threat to the development of Indonesian soccer, which includes the future career of Kahfi and the many other talented players in the country.