Bali governor wants to bar Israeli athletes from another sporting event

Pizaro Gozali Idrus and Luh De Suriyani
Jakarta and Denpasar, Indonesia
Bali governor wants to bar Israeli athletes from another sporting event Surfers carry boards at a beach in Sanur, in Bali, Indonesia, Jan. 18, 2023.
[Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP]

The governor of Indonesia’s Bali is in the spotlight again after the country’s Olympic committee head on Thursday criticized him for publicly rejecting Israeli athletes’ participation in the World Beach Games scheduled for August on the island. 

Gov. I Wayan Koster was among politicians and others whose objections to Israel’s participation in the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023 precipitated the world football body’s decision last month to eject the Southeast Asian nation as the tournament’s host.

This latest spat comes amid rising tensions in the Middle East, where Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian protesters at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Indonesia has condemned the violence and urged the United Nations and the international community to intervene.

Raja Sapta Oktohari, chairman of the Indonesian Olympic Committee, told BenarNews he had not received any official communication from the Bali government about Israel’s participation in the Aug. 5 to 12 World Beach Games.

“The Bali governor should have a dialogue to find a solution, not make his stance public. … I don’t want to look for an alternative,” Raja told BenarNews.

On Wednesday, Koster told the media that he rejected Israeli athletes participating at the games. He cited a foreign ministry regulation prohibiting the official use of Israel’s flag, emblem and anthem in Indonesia because the two nations don’t have diplomatic relations.

“First because of the constitution, then because of the foreign ministry regulation,” he said.

However, Oktohari said there would be no flag-raising or national anthem-singing in the event, which he said was different from other multi-sport activities. 

Additionally, Teuku Faizasyah, a foreign ministry spokesman, said the rule that bans flying Israel’s flag or singing its anthem in Indonesia was meant for regional governments only and did not apply to international events.

“There have been some cases where we hosted international events, and we did not use that rule as a basis,” he told reporters.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation with more than 270 million people, does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel and supports the Palestinian cause.

The Jewish state is set to compete in two events at the World Beach Games – open water swimming and three-on-three basketball.

The games feature 14 beach sports and are expected to attract about 1,600 athletes from 130 countries. Indonesia was chosen as the host in June 2022, after Qatar held the inaugural event in 2019.

Hopes for Bali tourism

The beach games are being seen as an opportunity to boost Bali’s tourism industry, which is recovering after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions.

The head of the Bali Provincial Tourism Office, Tjokorda Bagus Pemayun, said 66 special events to attract tourists were being prepared to welcome the World Beach Games.

“Help Bali to be safe and comfortable,” he said.

He said Bali had set a target of 4.5 million foreign tourist arrivals this year, from 2.1 million in 2022, but Tjokorda was pessimistic that it would be achieved.

Youth and Sports Minister Dito Ariotedjo said he planned to meet with Koster about the issue.

“We hope that this big event can still happen,” Dito said.

Many Indonesians are still smarting from FIFA’s decision to move the Under-20 World Cup elsewhere.

FIFA cited “current circumstances” for its decision, but it came after some officials and groups here had aired their opposition to an Israeli team playing in the tournament, which was to take place from May 20 to June 11.

The critics cited the Jewish nation’s treatment of Palestinians and its lack of diplomatic relations with Indonesia. Some conservative Islamic groups had staged protests against Israeli participation in the tournament.

The football-mad country is still reeling from one of the world’s deadliest sport disasters, where at least 135 people were killed and more than 600 injured at Kanjuruhan Stadium in East Java province in October.

Indonesia condemns Israel’s attack 

Meanwhile, Indonesia on Thursday denounced Israeli security forces’ raid of the Jerusalem mosque the previous day.

“Indonesia condemns the violent actions of Israeli security forces at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the holy month of Ramadan that caused a number of worshipers to be injured and hundreds of others arrested,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Israeli riot police stormed the mosque’s prayer hall before dawn on Wednesday, trying to evict what they called “lawbreaking youths and masked agitators” inside, news agencies reported.

The violence, occurring during the  Jewish Passover, the Christian Holy Week and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, set off an exchange of rockets and air strikes with militants in the Gaza Strip, raising fears of more conflict, the reports said.

Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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