The Jakarta Post
May 29 seems to be the most awaited day for Indonesian soccer fans. It is definitely not about the Champions League final match as the game will take place in Berlin, Germany, on June 6. It is the day when world soccer body FIFA is likely to deliver its verdict on the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) during its congress in Zurich, Switzerland.
Can or can't Indonesia continue taking part in international competitions? That is the question.
FIFA has threatened to ban Indonesia's soccer from international matches following an intervention by the Youth and Sports Ministry for suspending the PSSI, because the latter still included two 'legally flawed' clubs from the Indonesian Super League (ISL) as recommended by the PSSI-sanctioned Indonesian Professional Sports Body (BOPI). The ministry further requested that the police not issue match permits. In response, the PSSI halted not only the premier league, which had been running for two weeks, but all domestic soccer competitions, citing force majeure.
In its letter dated May 4, FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke warned the ministry against what he viewed as meddling in the affairs of the PSSI. The letter, sent to the PSSI, also held the National Sports Council (KONI) responsible for the stalemate in the national soccer scene.
Valcke said the ministry and KONI had violated articles 13 and 17 of FIFA's statutes, which obligate all FIFA member associations to manage their affairs independently and without influence from third parties.
Minister Imam Nahrawi, however, claimed that he got backup from President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo in the 'interference' by forming a transitional team tasked with managing soccer competitions until a new PSSI board could take shape.
The minister argued that the transitional team was necessary because Indonesia needed a major overhaul in its soccer body, which has faced lingering problems related to players, referees, fans and clubs.
In response to the letter, the ministry would send a team to FIFA's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, later this month to explain the good intentions from the government in 'fixing Indonesian soccer without violating FIFA statutes and without any intention of interfering'.
The ministry is fully aware of the risk from its policy but insists that it was done for the betterment of soccer in the country.
Should FIFA decide to ban Indonesia, it would not be a first. Previously, FIFA banned Nigeria, which was suspended until last year from international soccer because of government interference in the running of its national federation. Other countries facing FIFA's wrath include Greece ( 2006 ), Iran ( 2006 ), Kuwait ( 2007 ), Ethiopia ( 2008 ), Brunei Darussalam (2009-2011), Peru ( 2008 ), Iraq ( 2011 ) and Bosnia-Herzegovina ( 2011 ).
Article 14 of FIFA's statutes says the congress is responsible for suspending a member. The executive committee may, however, suspend a member that seriously violates its obligations with immediate effect. The suspension shall last until the next congress, unless the executive committee decides to lift the ban in the meantime.
PSSI chairman La Nyalla Mattalitti still hoped that the association would find a solution apart from being suspended from FIFA membership. The suspension means Indonesia will not be able to compete in the Singapore Southeast Asian (SEA) Games next month or any other ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) sanctioned tournaments, as well as the 2018 World Cup qualifying games.
It also means two clubs ' Persib Bandung and Persipura Jayapura ' will not be able to participate in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup qualifying stage.
Another question that arises is will the government and the PSSI have the willingness to sit and discuss the matter seriously, while at the same time only focusing on improving soccer development in the country?
Missing international competitions ' despite the fact that Indonesia has never won any major title since the 1991 SEA Games gold medal ' will leave a deep wound in the hearts of soccer fans.
No matter how bitter, fans should see it from a different point of view. It is time for the PSSI to have a major overhaul. We know the copious lingering problems surrounding the body, from match-fixing allegations, financial troubles, clubs' unprofessionalism, supporters' brawls and many more.
Even if Indonesia is suspended from international competitions, the PSSI must see it as a challenge and opportunity for improvement instead of a chance to play the blame game.
There is room for improvement especially in moving toward a more professional way of administering a domestic league ' from different divisions ' which should serve as a talent-scouting ground to expose young talents so they can join higher levels of competition, as well as to select elite players to join the national team that will represent the country.
The dispute between the PSSI and the government and the prolonged conflicts within the soccer body only shows the selfishness of people who claim they 'care about soccer' but sacrifice the development of the sport itself.
There are less than three weeks in which to make a move especially to convince FIFA that the PSSI is willing to fix its development and competition systems for the betterment of Indonesia's soccer. Just like what Jokowi said when he appointed his ministers: 'Work, work, work'. PSSI officials should get rid of their vested interests and focus on improvement.
Without good will, don't blame the fans if we point our fingers at PSSI officials as those responsible for dragging our soccer down and being alienated from the international stage.
The writter is managing editor of The Jakarta Post.