IDNAround – Indonesia promises to enliven the opening ceremony of the U20 World Cup in May after previously expressing doubt that the world football governing body FIFA would allow a grand celebration at the start of the biennial event.
Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali said on Thursday he had obtained permission from FIFA President Gianni Infantino to have a grander opening for the first FIFA tournament hosted by the country.
“The opening ceremony for the U20 tournament is usually different from that of the senior teams’ tournament. But I told [Infantino] that it’s President Joko Widodo’s request for a merrier opening ceremony, if possible,” Zainudin said on the BTV night talk show program.
“To my surprise, he agreed with that request. In previous tournaments before Indonesia, the opening game marked the tournament’s kickoff,” he told BTV host Fristian Griec, adding that the meeting with Infantino was held last month before the World Cup final match in Qatar.
The same official said in November that it’s very unlikely to start the U20 tournament with a majestic opening.
The 23rd edition of the U20 World Cup will run from May 20-June 11, a two-year delay because of the Covid pandemic.
As the host country, Indonesia is automatically qualified for the tournament which involves a total of 24 teams.
The government has been determined to make Indonesia “one of the epicenters” of Asian football since Joko Widodo took office in 2015, Zainudin said.
In 2019, the president issued a decree on the acceleration of the development of national football.
“[Football] is the only sporting event that has a presidential decree,” Zainudin said.
“According to data, more than 70 percent of the Indonesian people love football. That means looking after football is equivalent to looking after the livelihood of many people here.”
But Zainudin said there is a fine line between the government’s efforts to promote national football and the FIFA policy that strictly bans government intervention in the country’s football confederation.
“Several years ago we were hit by a FIFA ban because of the government’s too much intervention [in the national football confederation],” Zainudin recalled.
Indonesia’s hosting of the U20 World Cup was in limbo following the October 1 stadium crush that killed more than 130 people after police fired tear gas munitions at spectators following a post-match riot in the East Java town of Malang.
The government had a series of negotiations with FIFA to retain the host award with promises to improve stadium safety, police protocols, and fan engagement.
Infantino met with the president in October to ensure FIFA’s support for the Indonesian government’s efforts to develop safety policies and prevent a repeat of the tragedy.
“This is a football country, a country where football is a passion for over 150 million people. We owe it to them that when they see a match they are safe and secure,” Infantino said at that time.
“FIFA is here for the Indonesian people – FIFA will stay and work here to transform Indonesian football.”