The Jakarta Post
Exactly two days before the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) extraordinary congress commenced last Saturday, a former PSSI executive told me that Comr. Gen. Mochamad Iriawan, popularly known as Iwan Bule, would be elected new PSSI chief.
He said Iwan’s nomination had circulated among PSSI voters as the strongest candidate, allegedly because of a blessing from President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. National soccer, the executive said, needed a strong and firm leader at this time who would not just lead the way but also be politically connected. Political influence and connections appear pivotal as the road facing the PSSI boss would be uphill.
The majority of the voters supported Iwan’s candidacy as they assumed he would be a strong protector, who, at least, would force the police, to which Iwan belongs, to think twice about rejecting PSSI’s plans to organize soccer events.
The previous PSSI chief, Edy Rahmayadi, displayed strong leadership, too. At first, members of the public thought they had seen a light at the end of the tunnel in the former chief of the Army’s Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad). Edy announced his support for soccer with integrity and therefore declared war against match fixing.
Some in PSSI’s inner circle even dubbed Edy a man with commitment, which he proved by, among other things, turning down an offer from a regional sports-betting boss to just turn a blind eye to any match fixing.
Edy also encouraged young people to get involved in soccer development. He dismissed Ade Wellington as the PSSI secretary-general and replaced him with Ratu Tisha Destria, a businesswoman and soccer enthusiast with a degree in mathematics and sports. Tisha is the first woman to take the PSSI secretary-general job.
Everything changed after Edy contested the North Sumatra gubernatorial election in 2018. Political ambition distracted his focus on the PSSI and after winning the gubernatorial seat he devoted most of his time and energy to the people he led, rather than the soccer body. To many, Edy’s maneuver confirmed suspicions that for many the top PSSI job is simply a stepping stone to reach a political objective, something that has contributed to the PSSI’s deteriorating state all along.
Edy relinquished the PSSI chief post amid a police crackdown on match-fixing rings and a national team underperforming in international competitions.
Of course, Iwan, a former Jakarta Police chief, should never emulate Edy. Despite a controversial prelude to the PSSI extraordinary congress, which saw six candidates for the top post expelled from the congress venue for objecting to the rules of the game, Iwan stands a great chance of transforming the PSSI into a solid organization ready to help Indonesian soccer talents reach the Moon.
Some critical voices inside the PSSI say Iwan has to choose between two roads. The first and popular one will require him to cherry-pick soccer and other related events that will attract huge crowds and send a strong signal that the PSSI means business.
Later this month Indonesia will compete in the Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines. Next year it will hold the National Games in Papua and participate in the Olympics in Tokyo. In 2021 it will host the 2021 U-20 World Cup. On home turf, the premier soccer league, Liga 1, is underway.
As PSSI chairman, Iwan could form a sports intelligence unit to detect match fixing targeting soccer players. The National Police match-fixing task force has delved into match-fixing scandals and arrested several people for their alleged roles.
To be frank, the road will not be as easy as it seems for Iwan. Looking at the national team’s losing streak in the 2022 World Cup qualifying matches, we know about the gravity of the problem. It deals with the mentality as much as the physical aspects of the players.
Iwan’s success in fulfilling any of the prime targets will give him the popularity that he badly needs to pursue objectives beyond soccer. However, all this will barely change the PSSI, which has been mired in mismanagement, lack of professionalism and entrenched match fixing.
Iwan, if necessary, can take the second road, which is tough and complicated and may not reward him with popularity. He can start by developing second- and third-level soccer leagues as the foundations of the premier league. The second-string leagues have consistently found difficulties in financing, but the lack of funding has made them relatively free from match-fixing scandals.
Iwan could use his influence to persuade the government to offer tax incentives to anyone from the private sector willing to sponsor the less celebrated leagues. Sponsorship will ensure sustainability of the leagues and at the same time force close monitoring of the money spent on running the competition. The police’s antimatch-fixing task force could be the ideal partner for this effort.
The PSSI under Iwan could take stern measures against clubs that are embroiled in mismanagement, but also offer capacity-building programs to players in cooperation with overseas soccer clubs and associations.
Those efforts definitely would not guarantee Iwan popularity, as they can only bear fruit after many years, even after Iwan no longer leads PSSI. But the less popular path could help the PSSI solve its long-term problems and lead the national team to getting into better shape.
We will see which option Iwan will choose. Before that, let us wish him good luck. Set sail, Captain!