Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has said Israel’s participation in the Under-20 football World Cup would bring no change to its foreign policy after the tournament’s draw was cancelled following protests against the Israeli team’s presence in the Muslim-majority nation.
Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, underlined Indonesia’s support for Palestine and a two-state solution, adding that Israel’s qualification was secured long after his country won hosting rights.
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“I hereby guarantee Israel’s participation has nothing to do with the consistency of our foreign policy position towards Palestine, because our support for Palestine is always strong and sturdy,” he said in a livestreamed address on Tuesday.
“Do not mix matters of sports and politics.”
The two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations, and support for the Palestinian cause in the world’s most populous Muslim nation runs high.
Protesters have recently held marches demanding Israel be stopped from competing in the 24-team event from May 20 to June 11.
Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) on Sunday said this week’s draw for the tournament had been cancelled after the governor of the holiday island of Bali refused to host Israel’s team.
Indonesian officials said a rejection from Bali’s governor to hosting Israel on the Hindu-majority island and call for it to be thrown out of the cup because of its policies towards the Palestinians was likely behind the draw’s cancellation.
About a hundred Muslim demonstrators also marched in the capital Jakarta this month to protest Israel’s involvement.
A FIFA spokesperson said inspections of the tournament venues had concluded but did not comment on the PSSI chairman’s meeting or when a draw could be held.
‘Crucial’ tournament for Indonesian football
Widodo’s intervention came as fears grew that Indonesia could face sanctions and isolation on the global football stage if it could not guarantee Israel’s participation.
Indonesia was suspended from FIFA for a year until May 2016 due to government interference.
The Southeast Asian nation is trying to rebuild its reputation after a stampede at a stadium in East Java last year led to the deaths of 135 spectators, many crushed as they fled for exits after police fired tear gas into the crowd.
Muhadjir Effendy, the acting sport minister, late on Tuesday said a solution must be found and that hosting the tournament was crucial for Indonesian football.
“There are still possibilities,” he said. “FIFA is very appreciative, understanding of what’s happening in Indonesia.”
The U-20 tournament would represent the first major football competition hosted by the Southeast Asian archipelago nation.