Hooliganism threatens Indonesia's place in football
The headlines this week in Indonesia should be about how a Peter Odemwingie-inspired Madura United are top of the league, how PSM have hit a rough patch and how star-studded Persib Bandung are slipping –coachless—towards the relegation zone. But they are not.
The talk is about something else. Not politics and corruption this time though these have held the country back over the years.
More than any other country in Asia, Indonesia has issues with hooliganism.
With over a quarter of a billion people, many of which love the game, the potential is limitless should the right foundations be in place.
With the FIFA ban lifted in May 2016 after a year in limbo, it looked as if things were improving: a new president, a new league, new stars and a title race that is shaping up to be something spectacular. It is too early to declare that all is clean on the archipelago but for the first time in some time but there is a little optimism as to the future of the Indonesian game..
Much of that has been dashed. If politics and corruption have long been obstacles to success, then there is also violence. More than any other country in Asia, Indonesia has issues with hooliganism.
Fights can break out even in the most sedate of football nations but in Indonesia it too often spirals out of control. The passion attracts politicians and hangers-on (as well as the affection of many outside the country) also bubbles over into something much uglier from time to time.
It happened again last week. Ricko Andrian was a Persib Bandung fan attending his team's game against fierce rivals Persija Jakarta. He was attacked by his fellow fans who thought he was supporting the other team. After spending four days in a coma, he died.
As tragic as the death of a 22-year-old fan, who just went to the stadium to watch what is, after all, a sporting event, the fact that it is just the latest in a long-line of football fatalities makes it even sadder.
According to Save Our Soccer, an independent group that monitors football in the country, Andrian’s football-related death number was the 54th such incident since 1990. Thirty-five have occurred in the past five years. Such figures should be shocking.
Persib-Persija meetings are a particular flashpoint and the game, which should showcase all that is great about Indonesian football, is becoming famous around the world for all the wrong reasons.
Indonesia loves football like perhaps no other country in Asia but too high a price is being paid for that passion. The violence, that stands in contrast to the friendliness of the locals, has to stop. These are words that have been said and written plenty of times over the years but this time, something has to change.
All stakeholders, many of which have not had the best of relationships over the years, have to come together.The FA, known locally as PSSI, have to get involved much more than in the past.
There are signs that this may be happening. If there is any positive to come from this terrible event then perhaps it will be from a change in attitudes. Just last year, PSSI said that violence was not its responsibility.
"The federation doesn't manage supporters who riot, we just handle football governance. If we regulate riots, what kind of federation are we?" former PSSI executive committee member, Djamal Aziz, said in 2016. "Supporters are not our responsibility. We just oversee football clubs which then clubs manage their supporters through education or sanctions we impose.”
After the latest tragedy, PSSI's secretary general, Ratu Tisha Destria, spoke of the need for change.
"We know that the football fans in Indonesia need special treatment and therefore we'll create a division for fans and the community which will address such incidents among the fans," she added.
It is a start but just a start. The fans, obviously, have to come together and show that more unites than divides. Persib fans have already been involved in a few episodes this season already and there have been incidents, less well-reported, elsewhere too.
Nobody should be dying at a football game. Fan leaders from Persib, Persija and other teams have to reach out to each other. The fact that leaders from two rival groups met at Andrian's bedside was encouraging but it can't stop there.
There need to be more public appearances and events. The message coming from the terraces, those colourfully, chaotic cathedrals of the game, has to be that violence is not the answer to anything.
But when you see the antics of some players on the pitch, the fact that there is crowd violence becomes less surprising. Their behaviour in big games needs to be responsible. Of late, there have been more examples of players chasing or pushing referees after decisions did not go their way.
There needs to be consequences for such actions and a few examples have to be made. The same with fans who cause trouble whether it is throwing water bottles on to the pitch or something more serious. Referees too, and those who monitor them,have to ensure that they are not only impartial but are seen to be impartial.
In short, everyone must come together with the recognition that this can’t go on and a desire to build something new, something that truly reflects the passion and colour that could make Indonesian football something truly special.