JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday he was sending the head of the country’s soccer association for talks with FIFA over hosting the Under-20 World Cup, after the draw was canceled following protests about Israel’s involvement.
The two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations, and support for the Palestinian cause in the world’s most populous Muslim nation is high, prompting local opposition to hosting the Israeli team.
Widodo said he sent the head and minister of state-owned enterprises Erick Thohir from the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) because there was uncertainty about the location of the tournament.
“I have sent the head of the PSSI, Erick Thohir, to meet with FIFA staff to seek the best solution,” Widodo said in a live-streamed speech.
He did not specify when Thohir – former chairman of Inter Milan – would fly or which FIFA officials he would meet.
The meeting will take place in the Qatari capital Doha, PSSI official Eko Rahmanto told AFP on Wednesday. Indonesian officials initially said he would meet with FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, where the world soccer governing body is headquartered.
Fixtures for the 24-nation tournament were due to start in May with Friday’s selection in Bali, but FIFA canceled the event without offering a reason or setting a new date.
Indonesian officials said the governor of Bali asked Israel to throw out of the cup because of its policies towards Palestine probably behind the withdrawal.
Around a hundred conservative Muslim demonstrators also marched in the capital Jakarta this month to protest Israel’s involvement.
FIFA has yet to comment on the tournament and where it will be held after the draw.
Indonesia’s president said sport and politics should not be at odds after calls for Israel to be pulled from the competition.
“I confirm that Israel’s involvement has nothing to do with the consistency of our foreign policy towards Palestine. Because our support for Palestine remains strong and steadfast. So don’t mix sports with politics,” he said in the video.
Widodo’s intervention came as fears grew that Indonesia could face sanctions and isolation on the global soccer stage if it could not guarantee Israel’s participation.
The country would also hold the tournament under the cloud of one of the worst stadium disasters in the history of sports after 135 people died in an East Java stadium stampede in October.