In Indonesia, soccer is kicked around by political parties

Thu May 23, 2013 5:16pm EDT
 
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By Janeman Latul

JAKARTA (Reuters) - As monsoon rains swept the stadium, the chanting grew louder. "Indonesia! Indonesia!"

More than 60,000 people packed into Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta on a recent Saturday night to see the national soccer team play. Another 100 million tuned in to television to watch the match, underlining the appeal of soccer in Indonesia where attendance rivals the top English and German soccer leagues.

Among the fans are two of Indonesia's most powerful people - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and politically ambitious businessman Aburizal Bakrie. Their parties have long been battling for control over the sport and its huge audience, hoping this could be a factor in elections next year.

Bakrie, who leads the Golkar party and has said he will be a presidential candidate, seems to have wrested control of a unified soccer association that was formed in March after almost two years of the two groups running parallel associations and parallel leagues.

The association in charge of the sport controls marketing in the stadiums and on television.

"If you can control football, you are half way to controlling Indonesia," said a senior official at the Indonesian national soccer association, or PSSI.

"No political party campaign can get such a huge, devoted and noisy crowd. No wonder they (politicians) are dying to get hold of this."

Bakrie has own TV channel to both show matches and advertise his presidential ambitions. While he has announced his candidacy, Yudhoyono's Democrats have yet to announce their front-runner for the 2014 presidential polls, which will be preceded by parliamentary elections.   Continued...

 
Children attend a training session of the Bogor government soccer school at Pajajaran stadium in Bogor March 10, 2013. REUTERS/Beawiharta