Failures pile upon failures but the euphorically-heroic love for the Indonesian national soccer team never fades. Amid the intense calls for Nurdin Halid to step down from his post as chairman of the Indonesian Football Association, or PSSI, for his legal cause and managerial flaws, soccer frenzies and fanatics here keep their faith in the country’s capability to build a strong national team in the future.
The question is whether it’s a “you’d better believe” case, like the slogan of the Indonesian Super League (ISL), the top-flight domestic competition run by PSSI, or a “change the game” one, sounded by Indonesian Premier League (IPL), the rival to ISL, which aims to reform not just matches but also the whole spirit of national soccer. It is apparent that the IPL, which, though initiated by businessman Arifin Panigoro, receives support from the government.
However, the two opposing camps do not really live up to the expectations of soccer lovers who demand the comprehensively-integrated answer. While they still pin a hope that someday the national team could end the country’s title drought at international stages since winning the gold medal in Manila’s 1991 SEA Games, it’s a harsh reality to see that such political rifts have spilled over into national soccer.
To his critics and opponents, Nurdin frequently states he and all his men in the association have carried out their tasks and functions in accordance with statutes of FIFA and, therefore, the only governing body of world soccer still legally endorses the PSSI to handle all matters related to soccer in Indonesia.
That’s the rule. Nurdin and his men gain the upper-hand over their opponents who try every way to oust them out of office. The PSSI men could argue their departure from the association must follow both the PSSI and FIFA statutes.
To this point, Nurdin is right. He holds the authority to fully control the association. To a certain extent, it is also understandable that the PSSI axed many clubs joining the IPL and national team head coach Alfred Riedl dropped the new soccer star, naturalized Irfan Bachdim, from the roster of the U23 squad for Olympic qualifying matches and the SEA Games later this year.
Life is full of choices and to live is to choose. Each choice carries its consequences. Bachdim displayed sportsmanship for continuing his contract with his club, Persema Malang, which decided to leave ISL for LPI along with Persibo Bojonegoro and PSM Makassar. Internationally acclaimed experiences made Riedl count any possible risks to field the player for national duties from any clubs involved in domestic competition not officially endorsed by FIFA.
Both the Dutch-born player and the Austrian coach know well how to react and to act with dignity and integrity without breaking rules they must obey. The important part of this, as the two have said, is they took a decision without pressure from any side or party. They possess not only the ball but also the spirit of fair play.
Despite their disappointment, soccer lovers here might still say “In Riedl we trust” though there is no more Bachdim in the national squad. Unless the PSSI and IPL officials sit together to settle down their dispute, the door still opens for another “Bachdim victimization” to any promising young talents from the IPL and the anger will mount on Nurdin and his men in PSSI. Holding on FIFA’s endorsement makes them firmly stand but it will put the dream of building a strong national team at stake.
Should we believe in the IPL? The best thing we could do is change the way Indonesian soccer is managed. The IPL has to take a long road to prove not only its existence but also efficiency and effectiveness of its formula. It is a long process that begs more action.
The professional mechanism in handling not only IPL matches but also the know-how of the clubs’ management will pose a real challenge to the way the PSSI deals with ISL club members.
But in what way could the IPL contribute to the development of national soccer if its bright talents have no chance to don the national colors?
Outside the legal actions to challenge Nurdin’s bid to cling on to power for the third time in a row in the PSSI congress in March, national soccer now is in a state of danger and needs persons with real sportsmanship to run the soccer body. There is nothing wrong and no shame at all if the PSSI and IPL meet to discuss the best formula for national soccer development and work hand-in-hand to serve the interest of national soccer fans.
The soccer constituents are so hungry of laurels in international events. Let the best players in this country play, win and those in management take the credit.
The fans will put the blame on both PSSI and IPL if Indonesia fails to win any title, the most realistic will be the SEA Games gold medal at home this year. Both sides will be accused of pursuing personal interests and a political agenda at the expense of national soccer development.
FIFA does not suggest non-partisans to hold posts in national soccer federations. What it strongly prohibits is to promote, let alone convey, a political agenda or interest in running the soccer organizations.
In his book How Soccer Explains the World (2004), Franklin Foer notes that any political principles, motives and agendas have frequently become basic platforms in forming soccer clubs around the world. The colors of politics in many clubs could still be explored nowadays but they can’t run beyond the club level. Those colors must stop once clubs come to regional, national, continental and international competitions to defend not only their national pride but also human dignity.
Given the vital roles of national leagues in building a strong national team, surely we cannot tolerate the color of politics to prevail. Soccer for all will be just an empty claim and soccer fans will be sacrificed.
* Published on ”OPINION” page, The Jakarta Post, February 28, 2011