Indonesia withdraws as host of World Beach Games, citing funding, sponsorship woes

Arie Firdaus and Tria Dianti
Indonesia withdraws as host of World Beach Games, citing funding, sponsorship woes Russian and Brazilian players compete in the beach soccer final at the World Beach Games in Doha, Qatar, Oct. 16, 2019.
Ibraheem Al Omari/Reuters

Funding delays and sponsorship withdrawals forced Indonesia to back out of hosting the second edition of the World Beach Games, the country’s Olympic committee said Wednesday, leaving international organizers no choice but to cancel the event.

The withdrawal marks the second time this year that Indonesia has lost a major international sporting event, after FIFA stripped the country of the right to host the Under-20 World Cup following opposition by some politicians to Israel’s participation in the tournament.

The World Beach Games were scheduled to take place in Bali from Aug. 5-12, with more than 1,000 athletes from 206 national Olympic committees (NOCs) competing in 14 beach and water sports.

The Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) said Tuesday Indonesia’s decision “at such late notice” prevented it from finding an alternative host.

Raja Sapta Oktohari, the chairman of the Indonesian Olympic Committee, said the government had agreed to fund the games, but the budget approval process was too lengthy and complicated, leaving only 30 days before the event.

He said the situation was worsened by some sponsors pulling out, which forced the committee to finance all the preparatory activities by itself.

“We apologize profusely to ANOC and the international federations, athletes and all NOCs who have fought since the qualification process,” Oktohari said in a statement. “We also thank everyone who has worked hard during the preparation period.”

Oktohari said Indonesia had tried its best to organize a successful event, holding technical meetings with international federations, a chef de mission seminar and other activities.

He said the decision was necessary to protect Indonesia’s reputation as a host of world-class sporting events, such as the 2018 Asian Games and Asian Para Games.

“Of course, there are consequences. We are still communicating,” he said.

ANOC said Indonesia’s decision to withdraw had come with “great surprise and extreme disappointment.”

“ANOC sincerely apologizes to the NOCs, athletes, and international federations who have partnered and committed to this event, as well as to fans around the world,” ANOC said in a statement on its website.

Surfers walk on Legian beach, Bali, Indonesia, April 10, 2004. [Darren Whiteside/Reuters]

The World Beach Games, first held in Doha, Qatar, in 2019, are designed to showcase emerging and non-traditional sports such as surfing, skateboarding and beach soccer.

Indonesia was chosen as the host of the second edition in October 2021, after the American city of San Diego withdrew in 2019 due to financial issues.

The games were supposed to be followed by the ANOC General Assembly from Aug. 13-15. ANOC will make a decision in the coming weeks in regards to a new location and dates.

Bali Governor I Wayan Koster sparked a controversy in April after he publicly rejected Israeli athletes’ participation in the World Beach Games, citing Indonesia’s constitution and a foreign ministry regulation that prohibits the use of Israel’s flag, anthem and other symbols in Indonesia.  

Israel had qualified for two sports: swimming and 3x3 basketball, but basketball was later removed from the Bali games.

According to the Indonesian Olympic Committee, the qualified Israeli athletes had not re-registered as required for the Bali event.

Koster had previously rejected Israel’s football team in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup for the same reason. FIFA gave the hosting right to Argentina.

Koster’s anti-Israel statements drew criticism from some sports fans and officials, who accused him of mixing politics and sports. Koster is a member of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, of which President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is a member.

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.

Indonesia’s Youth and Sports Minister Dito Ariotedjo said he was saddened by the cancellation of the games, which he said would have showcased Indonesia's potential as a destination for beach and water sports.

But he denied that the government had not provided financial guarantees for the event.

“Indonesia is always ready to host international events, whether sports or others, with the infrastructure and human resources development that President Joko Widodo launched almost a decade ago,” he was quoted as saying by Antaranews on Wednesday. 

“But there must be careful planning so that we can host guests well.”


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