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Indonesia stripped of hosting FIFA U-20 World Cup for rejecting Israeli presence

An Indonesian woman holds the flag of Palestine during a rally in Jakarta on March 20, 2023, to demand the Indonesian government reject the participation of Israel's team 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup. (File photo by AFP)

FIFA, the world football's governing body, has stripped Indonesia of the 2023 U-20 World Cup hosting rights after massive protests in the Muslim-majority country against the participation of the Israeli team.

In a statement on Wednesday, FIFA said it has decided to “remove Indonesia as the host of the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023” following a meeting between FIFA President Gianni Infantino and President of the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) Erick Thohir.

The statement said the decision was made “due to current circumstances” but did not provide any further details.

The decision comes as FIFA canceled the draw event which was set to be held on Friday in Bali amid protests in the Muslim-majority country against hosting an Israeli team. Support for the Palestinian cause runs deep in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Bali island governor Wayan Koster had reportedly refused to host the Israeli team for the draw ceremony. According to media reports, he called on the Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sports to "adopt a policy forbidding the Israeli team from competing in Bali."

In its statement, FIFA said, “Potential sanctions against the PSSI may also be decided at a later stage.”

Support for the Palestinian cause is not strange in sporting fields as athletes from Muslim countries have repeatedly refused to compete against Israeli opponents at major international events to protest Israel’s crimes and occupation of Palestinian land.

The May 20-June 11 event was set to be the first major football tournament hosted by the Southeast Asian nation.

The cancellation also comes after a stadium stampede in October last year left 135 people dead in East Java, one of the worst disasters in the sport's history.

"FIFA would like to underline that despite this decision, it remains committed to actively assisting the PSSI, in close cooperation and with the support of the government, in the transformation process of Indonesian football following the tragedy that occurred in October 2022," read the statement.  

FIFA has pledged to announce a new host as soon as possible, noting that the dates will remain unchanged.

Many Muslim-majority countries have in the past refused to host Israeli athletes and many Muslim athletes to refused to compete against Israeli opponents as an expression of support and solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine. 

During the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year, the pro-Palestine sentiment was on full display as spectators and footballers were seen waving the Palestinian flag in stadiums and forcing Israeli journalists to leave the match venues.

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