Chronology of the cancellation of Indonesian football
Today is the day that a sad milestone for Indonesian football has been reached. It’s now officially 500 days since the last official Liga 1 game was played. Although the league came close to a restart several times, the actual restart was never achieved due to the soaring number of positive Covid cases in the country. Today the return of the league has been officially postponed for the 5th time over the course of one-and-a-half year. 15th of March 2020 marks the last official matchday in the Shopee Liga 1, since then the lights went out for Indonesian football.
The level on uncertainty surrounding the Indonesian League is unheard of.While sports competitions around the world have been resumed long-ago in different shapes and forms, with or without fans, or in so called ‘athlete bubbles’ the PSSI and President Jokowi abandoned clubs, players and fans in Indonesia. The slow decision-making and last minute cancellations have had a great impact on the mental state of players, while fans have lost faith they will ever see their league being resumed.
Apart from the emotional impact, the impact on the overall state of Indonesian football is huge. Players didn’t play an official game for over a year and a half now. Last April we saw a small glimpse of hope in the form of the Menpora Cup, but that stroke of light went as quick as it came. Although all players are vaccinated and the Menpora Cup proved that hosting games without fans is a possibility that doesn’t impact Covid infections, the PSSI and President Jokowi think otherwise. How is it possible that after 500 days there is still no solution or clarity regarding the resume of the Liga 1 and 2? When will we see a sign of life of the game we all love so much? Read the full chronology of the agonising management of football in Indonesia..
Covid-19 outbreak | March 2020
The 2020 Shopee Liga 1 season was only three games underway when the Corona virus took over the world, leaving people around the world were left in the dark about how to fight and control this pandemic. Many hoped and expected it would be a temporary issue that could be solved in a month of two or three. On March 14th 2020 the PSSI’s general chairman, Mochamad Iriawan confirmed the first postponement of the Liga 1 and Liga 2 until the end of May 2020.
Police says no! | June 2020
While the teams had already gathered and started their preparations for the restart of the league, a last minute decision of the head of the National Police intervened. Two days prior to the restart of the league, word came out that it wouldn’t happen after-all, leaving clubs furious and disappointed since they spend a lot of money in order to prepare. Money that wasn’t laying around in abundance with the loss of income during the previous postponement.
Eventhough the restart of the league was supposed to happen without fans, the head of police feared supporters would make their way to the stadium anyway, or gather with their comrades at home. Leading to possible new Covid-19 infections. In response to the police, the PSSI requested that the league would be no longer delayed then a maximum of one month. As Ramadan would start in April and many stadiums were scheduled to be renovated in May since Indonesia was set to host the U20’s World Cup. The first official FIFA tournament ever to be held in the country of a thousand islands(which would later be cancelled and rescheduled to 2022)
This event particularly made rescheduling of the league to any month later than september a logistical nightmare. But despite their request, and the need to restart as soon as possible, it turned out the league would be suspended until December(!)
2020 season Hello 2021 Season | January 2021
After a long period of silence, uncertainty and big financial impact on both players and clubs, december was upon us. The deadline to make a decision to continue the league was exceeded once more, and clubs opened conversations with the PSSI on how to continue their season. All 18 clubs participated in a vote wether or not to continue the 2020 season or to drop the results alltogether and start fresh in 2021. The majority of clubs voted the latter. Scraping all the results of the three games played back in March 2020 out of the history books to make room for a new season.
It took untill the 20th of January until the fate of the Indonesian football competition was finally revealed by by the PSSI’s Executive Committee (Exco) and rescheduled to May 2021. In what way and under what circumstances the league would continue was left unclear. Multiple rumours spread about special tournament set-up(including knock-out) or a version in which teams would play in central Java only in order to minimise traveling movements and to make life of the National Police a bit easier.
While the Covid situation in Indonesia seemed to become more stable and infections were declining, the PSSI came up with the idea to host a pre-season cup. This would be the perfect to showcase that it is in fact possible, to host ‘Corona-proof’ football games in Indonesia. Besides that it would give the players a chance to regain their strength and stamina after a long year without football.
Piala Menpora, the perfect showcase | March 2021
On March 20th 2021, almost exactly one year after the word came out that the league would be postponed, we suddenly saw the ball rolling again. With four different groups divided over four different stadiums in Java, football was finally coming home. Fans all across Indonesia were stoked to be able to watch their favourite teams go head to head again, even if that meant watching it on a TV at home. Under strict Covid protocols and measurements the Piala Menpora kicked off and turned out to be a great succes.
The fans proofed that they obeyed the rules by not gathering at any of the stadiums, while the clubs faced each other behind closed doors. You could clearly see that some players were a bit rusty after their temporary retirement, but that didn’t matter. In an epic build-up to the final, fans from Jakarta and Bandung were getting hyped by the possibility that the two-arch rivals would face each other in the finals. It was destined to be.
Over the course of two games, Persija went on to win the final of the Menpora Cup, sending Jakarta into absolute meltdown as fans crammed together in the city centre to celebration the win on their rivals. The celebrations were openly criticised by fans across the country, as they feared that the celebrations would lead to postponing once more. But luckily the National Police force and PSSI were happy with the way the tournament organisation and granted permission to restart the league and possibly even allowing supporters back into their ‘weekend home’. The latest plan? Kick-off in early July 2021!
Letter to the President: We are ready | July 2021
July was closing in fast and the PSSI had already presented the new schedule for the 2021 season. Players and fans were gearing up once more to get back to business. What could go wrong? Well ofcourse something had to spoil the party. A steep rise Covid-19 cases mid-June, proofed to be new fuel for uncertainty. Whilst the newly presented schedule was aimed at restarting on the 9th of July, was heading for postponement once again. The PSSI and PT LIB gave information on a possible new restart on either July 23th or July 30th but without giving any guarantees.
As July 23th passed, President Jokowi and the outbreak management team declared Indonesia to be in the highest level of Covid-19 risk(PPKM 4), the direct cause of another delay of the Indonesian Liga 1. Players in the league openly protested against the decision, as they are fed up with the situation. Under guidance of the Indonesian player association(APPI) players from every team participated in a virtual meeting to discuss their ideas and concerns, leading to them finally speaking up.
They wrote an open letter to the president, demanding an immediate restart of the league as all players are vaccinated and the Menpora Cup proofed that it is possible to host games without fans and with the right Covid measurements in place. The letter gained nationwide attention and under the hashtag #kamisiapmain(we are ready to play) the players promoted their statement trough social media, boosting the attention even more.
But despite the successful pre-season cup, the full vaccinated players and clubs being at risk of going bankrupt, President Jokowi replied to the request today and not in favour of anyone with passion for football. The level 4 PPKM has been extended by another week as of today, leaving clubs, players and fans in uncertainty once more. So many questions arise when it comes to way this situation is being handled. Covid should be taken seriously, but don’t you think people deserve a way to escape the daily struggle? The people are People are already suffering enough from the measurement. People are left without income and without compensation from the government, how can they proceed?
Football is not on top of the priority list when people are struggling for survival. And admitted, the Covid situation is a difficult problem to handle, causing division between people worldwide. But if there is one thing that can bring joy in times of darkness… If there is one thing that can united a country… That can unite people.. it is sports, and football in particular! Just take a look at the wonderful achievement of Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu. Two badminton players who made an entire nation proud by winning the gold medal in badminton at the olympics. It sparks conversation between neighbours. It makes people feel proud to be Indonesian. And aboveall, it unites people and let them forget about their sorrows. Even if it’s just for a little while.
Football has the power to evoke that same feeling of being part of something. Providing a sense of belonging and a source for joy, laughter and more. It’s something to look forward to on weekends after working your ass off during the week. It’s something that helps people to forget about those daily problems(even if it’s just for those 90 minutes). It’s time to bring that back. It’s time to bring back football. It’s time to bring back hope!