Last week has seen the re-occurrence of a couple of incidents that strike at the very heart of the game’s credibility in the region and how the local authorities deal with these incidents may have a major bearing on how the game will continue to be seen by the local football fan.
To say that football is popular is like saying the traffic in Jakarta is a nightmare or the weather in Manchester can be changeable. It’s obvious. But despite the presence of a strong footballing culture in Indonesia the authorities there have made little or no attempt to instill any credibility in the game meaning any attempt at broadening the game’s appeal is doomed to fail.
Thanks to cable TV, football fans get to see the best from England, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and even Scotland. The customer has a choice and once they have made that choice they vote with their wallets.
Seeing an increasingly slick product beamed in from Europe, fans are looking at their domestic game and shake their heads in shame. On field brawls are common place but where as the one man trail of destruction left by Joey Barton at Etihad in the final game of the English Premier League season will be investigated and punishment meted out, and seen to be meted out, in this part of the world offenders know they can get away with almost anything.
Crowd trouble erupted recently in Jayapura on the island of Papua when the home team, Persipura Jayapura, the champions of the Indonesia Super League, were beaten 1-0 by the visiting team, Persija Jakarta. Fans rioted, attacking the security officials and setting fire to parts of the recently renovated Mandala Stadium, venting their frustration at the rare defeat.
The away team were eventually evacuated, three hours after the game ended — by boat!
Typically what happens in these incidents is the home team get a slap on the wrist, maybe a fine and possibly forced to play a couple of games behind closed doors or at a neutral venue.
No serious attempt is made to find out what really happened and why. Just lock the stadium then move on. All fans get tarred with the same brush and nothing is done to ensure the incident is never repeated.
In fact in another Indonesian city, Tangerang just west of Jakarta, people were so fed up at the repeated incidents of fighting and brawls that marred games at the Benteng Stadium, shared by Persita Tangerang and Persikota Kota Tangerang, that it took a local religious chapter to issue a fatwa or instruction saying football at the stadium was haram or banned.
Despite repeated incidents, endangering the local residents, neither the clubs, the leagues nor the security apparatus had done anything.
In Thailand the biggest threat to public safety seems to come more from club officials than fans. At a recent game in the lower leagues the Chairman of Ranong was filmed inciting the team’s supporters to attack the match officials. Holding a microphone he ranted and raved against the officials, visibly waving his arms encouraging the supporters to join him in his actions.
He then lunged for the officials before being held back but it didn’t stop players chasing the poor ref and linesmen across the field trying to get a few slaps in.
Neither incident reflects well on the local game. At a time when English clubs especially are queuing up to get a share of the South East Asian budget there is little chance of a trickle-down effect all the while incidents like these two occur regularly and all the time the authorities charged with developing the game turn a blind eye.
The sad fact is that the local game will continue to be held hostage by local potentates who see the game as a vehicle for increasing their profile in their fiefdom. No serious action will be taken against offenders, be they fans, players or club officials because at the end of the day no one really cares.
And all the while this institutional apathy holds sway the local game will never fulfill its obvious potential.