AP – Indonesia’s unexpected second chance of hosting a global football tournament gets underway Friday when the Under-17 World Cup kicks off in Surabaya.
The football-loving nation of almost 280 million is determined to put on its best show, on and off the field, just months after it was stripped of the Under-20 World Cup hosting rights amid political turmoil over Israel’s participation.
Football’s international governing body took the drastic action in March, just eight weeks before the Under-20 tournament was scheduled to start, and Indonesian sports leaders feared long-term sanctions.
That event was shifted to Argentina at short notice, with Uruguay beating Italy in the final in June, and the apartheid state placing third.
In the same month, FIFA granted Indonesia hosting rights for the U-17 tournament after doubts over Peru’s preparedness.
“What is important is that we prepare ourselves to be a good host,” Indonesia’s football federation President Erick Thohir, also a Minister in President Joko Widodo’s cabinet, told local media. “We are all optimistic that this will go well.”
“Based on FIFA’s statement, they see that our standards are higher than those of the countries that usually host the Under-17 World Cup,” Thohir added. “That is what FIFA says, not me.”
Indonesia was involved in a short-lived attempt to host the 2034 World Cup. But one week after revealing talks with Australia about bidding to co-host in 2034, Thohir said his federation supporting the Saudi bid, all but ensuring that Saudi Arabia will host in 2034.
While Indonesia has never hosted a major global football tournament, Thohir is confident the country’s record in other events ensures it is ready for the Under-17 24-team competition. It will take place in four newly built or upgraded venues on the island of Java – Jakarta, Bandung, Solo and Surabaya.
“We have succeeded in demonstrating our capability of properly organising events, such as the Asian Games, the ASEAN Summit, and the G20 Summit in Bali,” he said.
Indonesia, which has grappled with long-standing issues of violence at domestic football games, is also aiming to show a year later that it can host safely after the Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster, when 135 fans died in East Java in a stampede for the exits after police fired tear gas in October last year.
At the Under-17 World Cup, fans will not be allowed on pitches, according to Ahmad Riyadh, of the football federation’s legal committee
“It needs to be emphasised that every form of pitch invasion is prohibited,” he said. “Currently we are undergoing a transformation following the Kanjuruhan tragedy and discipline regarding security and safety is of the utmost importance.”
The event is also a significant moment on the field. Indonesia has not appeared at any World Cup since participating in the 1938 tournament as Dutch East Indies. The team starts against Ecuador on Friday in Surabaya before taking on Panama and Morocco.
“They’re all strong teams but we are preparing as well as we can,” Coach Bima Sakti said. “We hope that the players can perform to their best and ask for support from the football loving fans and those watching on television.”
Thohir is also hoping for a better performance than the solitary 6-0 loss to Hungary 85 years ago in France. With the top two in each of the six groups of four and the four best performing runners-up going into the next stage, there is a chance.
“Seeing the preparations, we are confident,” he said. “We have a target of qualifying for the last 16 … we have to be optimistic. Hopefully the supporters will be the 12th man.”