President Joko Widodo making his press statement on the U-20 World Cup at the Merdeka Palace, Jakarta, on 28 March 2023. (Photo: BPMI of Presidential Secretariat / Cabinet Secretariat of the Republic of Indonesia)

President Joko Widodo making his press statement on the U-20 World Cup at the Merdeka Palace, Jakarta, on 28 March 2023. (Photo: BPMI of Presidential Secretariat / Cabinet Secretariat of the Republic of Indonesia)

Policy Lessons from the Cancellation of Indonesia’s Host Rights for the FIFA U-20 World Cup


The fallout from Indonesia’s recent loss of its chance to host the Under-20 World Cup contains valuable lessons for its policymakers and leaders, if they choose to pay attention.

On 29 March 2023, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) cancelled Indonesia’s host rights for the Under-20 (U-20) World Cup “due to the current circumstances” following the debate in Indonesia over the Israeli youth team’s expected participation. While FIFA did not specifically refer to the debate for its decision, its official statement mentioned the October 2022 Kanjuruhan stadium tragedy as one reason.

Indonesia now faces potential additional sanctions by FIFA but the cancellation has cost the country millions of dollars in preparatory work. The government had already spent approximately 675 billion rupiah (about US$45.2 million) on organising, training, and renovation costs. This cost-sharing was also borne by a programme called FIFA Forward 3.0 for as much as US$5.6 million (or 83.6 billion rupiah). This latter amount would have gone to a permanent training facility for Indonesia’s national team in the proposed Nusantara, Indonesia’s new capital city (IKN) but FIFA has frozen this money indefinitely.

The cancellation also shattered the dreams of Indonesia’s youth soccer team, which was looking forward to its first-ever U-20 World Cup and left millions of Indonesian football fans bitter and angry.

How did this happen?

Indonesia was appointed host after winning the bid against Brazil and Peru at end-2019. President Joko Widodo had issued Presidential Decree (Kepres) No. 19 of 2020 to set up the Indonesia FIFA U-20 World Cup Organising Committee (INAFOC) and Presidential Instruction (Inpres) No. 8 of 2020 to guarantee the mobilisation of support for the event, including ensuring the commitment of the central and six provincial governments expected to host the competition.

Yet, this momentum and euphoria changed into polemics by the final weeks of March 2023. The heightened debate over the participation of Israel’s youth team involved government officials, politicians, and social activists, particularly the governors of Bali and Central Java, Wayan Koster and Ganjar Pranowo, respectively. Wayan referred to the trauma to his province’s residents caused by the 2002 Bali bombings despite the Bali Police Chief’s guarantee of safety for the U-20 event, while Ganjar awkwardly stated that he supported the success of the Cup but rejected Israel’s presence in Indonesia. Several organisations and political parties like the Democratic Party of Indonesia-Struggle (PDI-P) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) also voiced their objections.

Almost a month has passed since FIFA’s decision to cancel Indonesia’s host rights. In hindsight, this episode raises an alarm in terms of Indonesia’s policy coordination and implementation.

First, Indonesia does not have any diplomatic relations with Israel, like many other majority-Muslim countries, as a consequence of the Indonesian Constitution’s mandate. In the existing regulatory framework, the two governors had cited Foreign Ministerial Regulation No. 3 of 2019 when rejecting the presence of the Israeli players, although the Foreign Ministry (Kemlu) has said that the regulation should not be used in this way. Here, it seems that there has been little or no coordination across ministries and the relevant departments to identify all the consequences of this policy or to ensure consistency in its implementation.

Indonesia has had a difficult history over the issue of Israeli athletes in sports. In 1958, Indonesia, Turkey, and Sudan dropped out of the World Cup qualifiers to avoid playing against Israel. During the 1962 Asian Games, the Indonesian government refused to issue visas to Israeli participants. In 2006, Indonesia pulled out of an international tennis tournament because it was held in Tel Aviv. But in recent years, a few instances of Israeli players competing in Indonesia in badminton (2015, at the World Championships in Jakarta); rock climbing (2022, in Jakarta); and cycling (February 2023, at the UCI Track Nations Cup) have passed without controversy.

More consistency in the implementation of policy where Israel is concerned will be key in the future when Indonesia hosts any international event, in sports or other activities. Otherwise, the politicisation of such events is a risk that international organisers may be loath to run. As it is, it is now unclear if the World Beach Games, scheduled to be held in Bali from 5-12 August 2023 and when Israel is expected to participate, will take place.

In hindsight, this episode raises an alarm in terms of Indonesia’s policy coordination and implementation.

Second, this incident showed a problematic relationship between the central and provincial governments where the two governors objecting to the Israeli team failed to see the national cause. While decentralisation since 1999 gave a mandate to subnational governments in many policy areas, foreign policy remains the sole prerogative of the central government. By going against the 2020 Kepres and Inpres, Wayan Koster and Ganjar Pranowo not only went against their initial commitment to support the U-20 Cup but more seriously can be considered as directly violating the president’s position. However, the governors have not faced any governmental consequences for their statements.

Third, the domestic debate shows weak management of the communication of policies and coordinating domestic responses on foreign policy issues. It was not enough for President Widodo to just say, “Do not mix sports with politics!”. As the issue escalated nation-wide, the president should have taken the lead in communicating what its implications and consequences were for Indonesia, and what he would do. After FIFA’s decision, everyone denied responsibility.

There is no apparent orchestration to manage the fallout even in the government’s post-cancellation communications. While the Minister for Tourism said that the cancellation negatively impacted tourism and the creative economy sectors, and the Ministry for Cooperatives and MSMEs tried to address the estimated total loss of 3.7 trillion rupiah (US$248 million), Kemlu sang a different tune: that if the U-20 Cup took place as planned, this would jeopardise Indonesia’s global reputation.

Indonesia’s policymaking processes may be driven by good intentions but their implementation is seriously fragmented. As the U-20 World Cup cancellation shows, ensuring delivery and sound policy coordination, and identifying and anticipating the unintended consequences of certain policies, remain a challenge.


Yanuar Nugroho is Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He was the former Deputy Chief of Staff to the President of Indonesia 2015-2019.