A Message to FIFA From Indonesian Football: Please Just Butt Out
Indonesian football, to put it mildly, is sick.
Sure, it looks fine from a distance. People still turn out in droves for matches, Indonesia’s representatives in Asian competitions are holding their own and there’s enough demand for football to support a whole breakaway league.
Look closer, though, and the patient’s prognosis isn’t nearly as rosy. It has massive internal bleeding and its support systems are working against each other. Were this the requisite hospital scene in your favorite sinetron, the patient would undergo immediate, life-saving surgery.
FIFA might see just such a scenario as it gazes down from its ivory tower on this fair archipelago.
Fortunately, world football’s governing body doesn’t need to ask if there’s a doctor in the house to save this patient. All it needs to do is, well, nothing.
That is not to suggest FIFA should ignore the ongoing insurrection in Indonesian football. Rather, it should sit back, take another pass through the buffet and let the wind of change bearing down on the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) take its course.
This country’s football community has had enough of seeing its sport wallow in mediocrity and, rather than vent its spleen online, it is mad enough to take to the streets and do something about it.
Even the most tone-deaf FIFA apparatchik would find it difficult to ignore the growing protests against the PSSI and its chairman, Nurdin Halid. Having the pro-reform majority at last week’s PSSI general assembly perform its homage to the Storming of the Bastille, all in the presence of minders from FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation, was just the Vivaldi-like cadenza in a concerto of dissatisfaction.
Wading into the conflict now and threatening to suspend Indonesia for “government interference” — the biggest club in FIFA’s bag — is the worst thing world football’s caretaker could do. Not only would it entrench a status quo that has been deemed unacceptable by seemingly everyone not associated with the PSSI, it would exacerbate the rift between the political cabal in charge of the PSSI and the football-loving majority outside the Gelora Bung Karno complex.
The PSSI leadership has lost its legitimacy, and its recent actions show a group more interested in staying in power than doing what is best for Indonesian football.
Reform-minded voters found themselves suddenly struck off the rolls, FIFA and AFC representatives were whisked away from the general assembly to avoid the PSSI losing face, and secretary general Nugraha Besoes was caught red-handed trying to foist the blame for bailing on the assembly onto FIFA rather than the PSSI.
All this from an organization that kept Nurdin in charge in defiance of FIFA statutes, which state a convicted criminal cannot lead a football organization.
Nurdin has been in the dock several times for graft and was convicted in 2007. Thanks to a subtle rewriting of FIFA’s statutes, though, he kept his job and was allowed to run for re-election.
Indonesian football needs to heal, and it can only do that with new leadership. The reform movement has the backing of the majority of PSSI members and the support of the public. Its leaders stuck to FIFA regulations during the general assembly and have pledged to do likewise in the April 29 election.
The passion for football in Indonesia is something to behold and one of its great selling points. Passion alone won’t fix its problems, though.
Players go months without being paid, clubs still rely heavily on government handouts, and graft is an open secret.
These and other issues that keep Indonesia from reaching its full potential will not be solved by a leadership that is more concerned with politics and profit than football.
Until recently, the tag line on FIFA’s official logo read “For the Good of the Game.” If FIFA is truly concerned about the well-being of the game in Indonesia, the best thing it can do right now is butt out.