I know. We’re within a rag-sniff of the end-of-season polishing of trophies and here I am about to demand your attention with a piece on the Indonesia Premier League (the what?!). Bear with me, there is indeed a point to all this.
To set the scene here is a brief chronology of events that have unfolded in and around the PSSI, the Indonesian equivalent of the FA:
• Over a period of time, dissatisfaction grows with PSSI boss Nurdin Halid. Despite two years running the PSSI from prison when convicted of smuggling, he is re-elected in 2007.
• Disappointment with the performance of the national side, and squabbling over distribution of television revenue, prompt calls in 2010 for restructuring of Indonesian football; a players’ association and a reform group are established.
• Tycoon Arifin Panigoro establishes a breakaway league, the Indonesia Premier League (LPI) with 20 clubs, both old and new, as founding members.
• FIFA rails against the LPI, bans Panigoro from PSSI elections, threatens sanctions against players and officials involved.
• The LPI kicks of in January 2011, with big-name sponsors like Microsoft and Coca-Cola on board, running in direct competition with PSSI’s official SuperLiga.
• Indonesian Corruption Watch suggests that “candidates for the PSSI chair should possess clean backgrounds, not rap sheets,” while a protest outside the association sees 3,000 people demanding Halid step aside.
• PSSI congress descends into chaos as FIFA observer Frank Van Hattum is barred from entering. The congress is abandoned.
• FIFA effectively dissolves the PSSI leadership and appoints a ‘normalisation committee’ to oversee new elections in May. They state: “The FIFA Emergency Committee estimated that the current PSSI leadership was not in control of football in Indonesia as proven by the failure to gain control of the run-away eague (LPI) set up without the involvement of PSSI.”
• The normalisation committee recognises LPI for the duration of the current season, while its future will be discussed by the new PSSI congress. Halid is banned from standing for re-election.
So there you have it, a breakaway league and all those taking part in it are now back in the official fold, with the players involved again eligible to play in all FIFA competitions. If your rabble-rousing is good enough even FIFA can be convinced to switch sides. As blogger Jesse Fink suggests, “it lights a way forward for a revived G14 or an Atlantic League or, as I imagined in April 2008, an IPL-style Asian football league made up of world superstars.”
Currently the PSSI websites notes forlornly that no candidates have as yet been nominate for the new elections. Being caught in a power play against FIFA and serious money isn’t going to be much fun, nor is there any obvious or convenient way to reconcile the two ‘big leagues’ playing side by side. It may be that FIFA finds a way to terminate the LPI and reclaim some of its authority, but it will surely come at a price.
As if cricket’s experience with the Indian Premier League wasn’t lesson enough, we are now certainly forewarned that powerful men with money can effect decisive change in our sport. And if that means playing argy-bargy with teams, leagues and even entire national associations, that is precisely what may happen.
The whiff of horse-trading that surrounded the awarding of the World Cups last year was no one-off. The enormous amounts of money now involved in world football mean there is a lot at stake; it is up to us as fans to demand that our interests are looked after.