Indonesia yanked as U-20 World Cup host after calls to bar Israeli soccer team

FIFA says move ‘due to the current circumstances’ without giving specific reason, amid backlash in Bali over Israel’s participation in tournament

Israel's midfielder Oscar Gloukh drives forward with the ball during the UEFA Under-19 European Championship final soccer match against England in Trnava, Slovakia on July 1, 2022. (VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)
Illustrative: Israel's midfielder Oscar Gloukh drives forward with the ball during the UEFA Under-19 European Championship final soccer match against England in Trnava, Slovakia on July 1, 2022. (VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)

Indonesia was stripped of hosting the men’s Under-20 World Cup on Wednesday amid political turmoil regarding Israel’s participation.

FIFA said Indonesia was removed from staging the 24-team tournament scheduled to start on May 20 “due to the current circumstances” without specifying details.

“A new host will be announced as soon as possible, with the dates of the tournament currently remaining unchanged,” FIFA said in a statement.

The decision came after a meeting in Doha between FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Indonesian soccer federation president Erick Thohir.

Israel qualified for its first Under-20 World Cup in June. The country’s participation in Friday’s scheduled draw in Bali provoked political opposition this month.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, while publicly supporting the Palestinian cause.

Indonesia’s hosting was cast into doubt on Sunday when FIFA postponed the draw. Indonesian officials said Bali’s governor calling for Israel to be thrown out of the cup because of its policies towards the Palestinians was likely behind the draw’s cancellation.

It is unclear who could now host the tournament, which was scheduled to be played in six stadiums in Indonesia.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrives at the EU-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels on December 14, 2022. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Argentina, which did not qualify for the tournament, is reportedly interested in hosting.

“A new host will be announced as soon as possible, with the dates of the tournament currently remaining unchanged,” FIFA said.

The Indonesian soccer federation could be further disciplined by FIFA. A suspension could remove Indonesia from Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup, which starts in October.

Soccer and public authorities in Indonesia agreed to FIFA’s hosting requirements in 2019 before being selected to stage the 2021 edition of the Under-20 World Cup. The coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to be postponed for two years.

Israel qualified for its first Under-20 World Cup when it reached the semifinals of the Under-19 European Championship. The team went on to lose to England in that final.

Israel plays in Europe as a member of UEFA after leaving the Asian Football Confederation in the 1970s for political and security reasons.

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