The Jakarta Post
The Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) has assured that it will not be continuing its Liga 1 and Liga 2 soccer leagues over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak, the association chief confirmed, casting off speculation of possibly organizing matches behind closed doors.
During a recent teleconference with House of Representatives lawmakers, PSSI chief Mochamad “Iwan Bule” Iriawan rejected the idea of continuing the competition without spectators, an idea proposed by several members of the House Commission X overseeing sports.
“We have discussed this option. FIFA hands over the decision to each federation regarding the matter but still urges safety on top of everything,” he said in a recent discussion.
“Looking at the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, we decided it was best to postpone the league. Even if we continued the league without spectators, there would still be at least 50 people gathering for a match.”
The Jakarta administration became the first province last week to impose large-scale social restrictions (PSBB), a partial lockdown that calls for strict physical distancing measures. One such measure is to prohibit gatherings of more than five people.
Other provinces soon followed suit.
PSSI has moved to halt all competitions until May 29.
The Liga 1 competition, which kicked off on Feb. 29, had only entered its third-match week, while Liga 2 only held its first official match on March 14.
Lawmakers were split between those who favor continuing the competitions for entertainment value in a time of crisis, and those who worry the COVID-19 outbreak is too much of a risk.
“Sporting events, just like other shows on television, have lost their soul. But at least they are a source of entertainment for citizens [to weather the crisis],” said former entertainer Rano Karno, a House Commission X lawmaker from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP-P).
On the other hand, Democratic Party lawmaker Yoyok Sukawi insisted that organizing matches behind closed doors would not be effective in efforts to curb the spread of the disease, as league clubs are required to be highly mobile during competitions.
“Regions on the island of Java have now been categorized as red zones for COVID-19 cases. It will be difficult for clubs to obtain permits to host matches,” said Yoyok, who is also the CEO of Semarang-based soccer club PSIS.
“[Organizing matches without spectators] would also result in losses for both clubs and operators. If sponsors withdraw, PSSI and the operators could go bankrupt, as 80 percent of the income comes from them.”
The COVID-19 outbreak that has swept the country in the past few months has exacerbated the conditions of Indonesia’s national soccer industry. With both leagues postponed and physical distancing measures in place, there was barely any opportunity for players and coaches to prepare for the FIFA Under 20 World Cup in 2021, which Indonesia will be hosting.
PSSI has long been on the receiving end of criticism, as the association battles decades of entrenched corruption and poor management.
Djohar Arifin Husin, a Gerindra lawmaker and former PSSI chief between 2011 and 2015, warned the association not to forget to prepare for the Under 20 competition, noting that the PSSI had yet to discuss its plans with the House Commission X.
He also criticized the association for stalling on a presidential mandate to speed up national soccer development.
“It’s been a year, but there’s still nothing. The PSSI can actually make use of the opportunity to involve several ministries to work together in improving the country’s soccer industry.”
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo specifically instructed Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali at his appointment last year to “fix Indonesian soccer”, which is marred with deep-seated problems like match fixing and hooliganism.
Iriawan said the association had assembled a team headed by the PSSI’s West Sulawesi regional chapter to work on a road map for the industry.
He said the PSSI was maintaining communications with the world soccer body on whether or not it was planning to go ahead with the World Cup. FIFA had planned on visiting the country last month to determine the host cities, but the plan was scrapped.
From a total of 11 stadiums that the PSSI had proposed to FIFA for the competition, only six would be getting the nod to host cup matches. These include Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta, Gelora Bung Tomo stadium in Surabaya, East Java, and Si Jalak Harupat stadium in Bandung regency, West Java.
“We will wait for the guidelines from FIFA and the government. If the coronavirus pandemic lasts only until September, we can start renovating the stadiums for the 2021 World Cup,” he said.