When FIFA president Sepp Blatter extended the deadline for the Indonesian Soccer Association (PSSI) and Indonesian Soccer Rescue Committee (KPSI) to settle their dispute from Dec. 10, 2012, to March 30, 2013, as a “Christmas gift”, Indonesians may have accepted it with mixed feelings. What kind of a gift is it?

Many think FIFA has been too generous, but others may deem the world soccer governing body as a toothless tiger. It is now two years during which the PSSI and KPSI have tried to resolve their differences, but to no avail. The crisis has even deepened and, to some extent, displays a clearer picture about a political struggle going on at the expense of national soccer.

A majority of Indonesians are probably frustrated by the protracted dispute, which has marred Indonesian soccer and, consequently, ensured that the national team is neither in good shape nor playing at its best in international competitions.

As of November 2012, the national team ranked 165th in the FIFA World Ranking table, up from its historic low of 170th the previous month. A string of failures in the Asian Cup, the Asian zone’s 2014 World Cup third round and the 2011 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games were attributable to this slump.

The long-standing rift between the PSSI and KPSI also contributed to the national team’s early exit in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup. Not all the country’s best players had a chance to don the national jersey in the biennial event, the winning of which has so far eluded the country. Indonesia has failed to gain international laurels in soccer since winning the SEA Games gold medal in 1991.

The KPSI said players competing in its top-tier Indonesian Super League (ISL) would not be available for the AFF Cup after the PSSI denied its right to prepare and manage the national team as implicitly stated in the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by both parties in June 2012. The MoU required the two bodies to settle their dispute by Dec. 10 under the Asian Football Confederation’s supervision.

The MoU was in fact a landmark for reconciliation. For the KPSI, the agreement justified its role in all matters related to national soccer through a joint committee (JC) that comprised representatives from the two parties. The MoU also called for the reinstatement of four expelled members of PSSI’s executive committee, the dissolution of the KPSI after the next PSSI congress and the PSSI’s taking over control of the Indonesia Soccer League.

However, the PSSI considered the national team’s interests should not fall under the auspices of the JC, since the MoU did not clearly state so. The association, therefore, selected the players for the AFF Cup without involving the KPSI.

The KPSI was formed after four PSSI executive committee members — La Nyalla Mattalitti, Roberto Rouw, Erwin Dwi Budiawan and Tony Aprilani — were expelled last year for criticizing PSSI chairman Djohar Arifin’s leadership style. The PSSI had come under criticism for adopting a new format of the national league, which many said breached its own statute. The KPSI then launched its own league, the ISL, operated by PT Liga Indonesia, to rival the PSSI-sanctioned Indonesian Premier League (IPL) run by the PSSI’s PT Liga Prima Indonesia Sportindo.

The crisis persists and the dual leagues have taken their toll. “Can you imagine that in Indonesia they have two groups directing soccer? They have a league, but the players of that league cannot play on the national team. Something is wrong,’’ Blatter told a news conference after FIFA announced the dispute extension in Tokyo recently.

The PSSI and the KPSI cannot consider FIFA’s Christmas gift, which averts an international ban on Indonesian soccer, as a reason to celebrate. The three-month extension period will soon fly by if the two rival parties utilize all their efforts to resolve their conflict. The soccer elites need to digest Blatter’s words to prevent them from exacerbating the dispute.

Christmas offers the message of peace and the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of humankind. In line with the Christmas gift Blatter has given to Indonesian soccer, the PSSI and the KPSI will hopefully be willing to set aside their respective egos, exercise wisdom, show maturity and quickly get “their house in order”, as demanded by Blatter, for the sake of national interests.

If the two cannot unite by the new deadline, national soccer lovers will be unable to watch their team play international matches and FIFA will suspend financial assistance to Indonesia.

What is the national league(s) for except to form a strong national team to represent the country in the “beautiful game” called soccer?

* This piece of mine was published on Paper Edition of The Jakarta Post’s  OPINION section, Page 4, Sunday December 23, 2012 or visit:

 http://www2.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/12/23/extended-deadline-a-christmas-gift-indonesian-soccer.html