Football returns in FIFA-suspended Indonesia

JAKARTA: Despite being under a FIFA suspension, domestic football returned to Indonesia on Saturday after intervention from President Joko Widodo led to the introduction of two new tournaments.

Persekap Pasuruan kicked off the 24-team Independence Cup with a 2-0 win over Madiun Putra at the Wilis Stadium in Madiu.

The competition, which features the lower league teams split into four groups, will be played over the next month. The President Cup, a 16-team tournament for mainly second division clubs, will kick-off later this month.

It is the first domestic football held in the populous Southeast Asian nation since FIFA banned the country in May after repeated warnings to the government to stop meddling in affairs of the local football association (PSSI) went unheeded.

The ban resulted in Indonesia being kicked out of the joint 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifying campaign and led to the disbanding of many top flight clubs and players going unpaid as contracts became void.

Attempts to restart the domestic top league by clubs had been halted by the government body put in place to administer the game after they suspended the PSSI.

Understanding the popularity of the game in his country, Widodo met with Youth and Sports Minister Imam Nachrawi last week to thrash out the plans for the restart of some football.

"After the PSSI was frozen, the President wanted to keep soccer alive," Teten Masduki, a member of the presidential communication team, was quoted as saying by local media last week.

Inter Milan majority owner Erick Thohir is involved in the President Cup with his PT Mahaka Media part of the organisation team.

"The President wants something (soccer games) to keep rolling in society," Thohir said.

Local media said the top flight clubs in the Indonesian Super League still retained hope of restarting the league in October.