Sunday, 4 June, 2023
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Fury, sadness in Indonesia after FIFA pulls U-20 World Cup

Indonesian football players, fans and pundits reacted with anger and sadness Thursday after FIFA pulled the Under-20 World Cup from the host nation weeks before it was due to kick off, following protests against Israel's participation.

The humiliating loss came after two influential governors advocated banning Israel from the competition.

Indonesia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations, and support for the Palestinian cause in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation runs high, fuelling local opposition to hosting the Israeli team.

FIFA's decision to find a new host -- thereby nixing Indonesia's automatic qualifying spot -- puts the country's most popular sport back in the doldrums and facing another bout of isolation as it recovers from a stadium stampede that killed 135 people last year.

Some of the archipelago nation's football prodigies took to social media with fury and heartbreak after losing the chance to play in what FIFA bills as the "tournament of tomorrow's superstars".

"Energy, time, sweat, and even blood we have put in, but in a moment failed because of political reasons. Here's our big dream that you've destroyed," wrote 19-year-old striker Rabbani Tasnim.

An Indonesian football association video showed players with heads bowed and their coach in tears after receiving the news late Wednesday that FIFA would seek a new host.

President Joko Widodo said Thursday he was "disappointed and saddened" by the decision but said Indonesia had to respect it.

On Thursday morning, flower boards for the players popped up outside the football association headquarters in central Jakarta, including one that read "do not give up on your dream".

Indonesian officials said losing the tournament could cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars.

FIFA threatened further sanctions and could exclude Indonesia from 2026 World Cup qualifiers that begin in October. It was banned for a year in 2015 over government interference.