Protest vote

John Duerden hopes that the Indonesian FA may soon have a less corrupt president

2010 was a bad year for Indonesian football. It started with a 2-1 loss at home to Oman in an Asian Cup qualifier, the high point of which was a pitch invasion by a spectator. The fan, scarf around left wrist, got hold of the ball and ran half the length of the pitch only to see his shot saved by Ali Al Habsi.

 The real strikers weren’t much better in December as Malaysia lifted the AFF Cup at Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. Over 90,000 fans started shouting Nurdin, turun! (Nurdin, resign!) and, in 2011, they may finally get their wish. Nurdin Halid, the chairman of the Indonesian FA (known as PSSI), is not the kind to step down voluntarily but FIFA could be finally ready to deal with the leader who wants to run for a third term in the April 29 leadership election, one that most believe he would win by whatever means.

Halid is a convicted criminal. Since taking over the federation in 2003, he has been behind bars twice, for smuggling sugar and distributing illegally imported oil. Out of jail in 2006, he was re-elected for a second term of office in 2007. You may think that FIFA would take a dim view of one of its member federations being run from a prison cell but only now is the governing body starting to flex its muscles.

Sepp Blatter’s attention was grabbed by the formation of a breakaway league in January. Indonesia should be a continental powerhouse but, despite an impressive following for football, the national team struggles and didn’t even qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup.

The Super League is poorly run and full of teams funded by regional government subsidies with little incentive to perform well on or off the pitch. When you add the amateurish attempt to bid for the 2022 World Cup, then disillusionment with PSSI and Halid has been higher than usual.

A group of businessmen became so fed up that they set up the Indonesian Premier League. Despite the threat of sanctions from PSSI, three clubs (Persema Malang, PSM Makassar and Persibo Bojonegoro) left the Super League to join 16 other teams, all except one newly-formed.

Former Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie was the most high-profile foreign signing and joined Bandung FC. “It is impossible to have a breakaway league in a well organised federation,” said Blatter in March, missing the point slightly. “We shall not hinder the statutory rights of an association but they have to bring their house in order. If by April 30 they have not done that the FIFA executive will have no alternative but to suspend their federation.”

FIFA subsequently became involved in Halid’s plans for re-election. In March, the organisation’s director of member associations, Thierry Regenass, sat next to Blatter on a visit to neighbouring Timor Leste, and said: “As far as we are concerned the PSSI statutes as approved by FIFA are pretty clear and they mean clearly that someone who has been convicted of a criminal offence should not be able to stand.”

It didn’t stop him last time however. PSSI have dismissed local media reports which stated that FIFA will not validate his re-election as “gossip”, but Halid has been losing friends in the government and, most crucially, in his own federation, people he has managed to keep sweet over the years. FIFA ordered a congress to be held on March 26 to set the rules and format for the April election amid fears that the chairman was manipulating the process.

Youth and sports minister Andi Mallarangeng said he had reminded PSSI to host a fair and transparent congress. “I have told them many times, but I don’t know whether they listened to me or not,” he said. They didn’t seem to as the congress was abandoned after pro-reform PSSI delegates, who claimed they had not been allowed to attend, stormed into the meeting to demand Halid’s resignation.

There are rumours that Halid will try to delay the election while his ally and past protector, Mohammed Bin Hammam, stands against Blatter in June’s FIFA presidential election. Halid could be clutching at straws but he has already shown that he will do whatever it takes to stay in his position. Fans will be waiting to make sure he’d gone before they start to celebrate.

From WSC 291 May 2011