*by A. Widya Syadzwina (trans.Andy Fuller). @widyasyadzwina **An Indonesian version of this article first appeared at Fandom.id
(photos by Erick Didu of Cakrawala newspaper, Makassar)
This article focuses on one of the inter-kampung competitions in Indonesia. A.Widya Syadzwina explores football during Ramadan in Makassar. This year, however, the competition is not only healthier than usual, but it takes place during the suspension of the domestic leagues. The Ramadan League combines professional and amateur players and is funded by politicians and by owners of big businesses. The games take place on rudimentary football pitches and spectators watch for free. But, the competition serves both as great entertainment during the late afternoons prior to opening the fast, as well providing an opportunity for players to maintain their condition and skills.
Every year, when Ramadan arrives, professional football is put on hold. But, in Makassar in Southern Sulawesi, a local football competition known as the Ramadan League takes up the slack. The Ramadan League has been held yearly since 2003 and it is the most prestigious inter-kampung (tarkam) competition in Indonesia.
The enthusiasm for football is high in Makassar – a city of 1.3million residents.This is despite the general doom-and-gloom regarding the professional domestic football leagues. Moreover, the PSSI (Football Federation of Indonesia) has had its activities frozen by the Minister for Youth and Sport, Imam Nahrawi. In contrast, to the gloom at the national level, the Ramadan League competition – held in the Daeng area of Makassar – is healthy and engenders much support from local football fans.
The annual Ramadan League is eagerly anticipated by the people of Makassar. Some of the teams have been participating in the competition since its inception. When the competition was first held in 2003, the players were exclusively amateurs who were merely looking for something to do during the down-time of Ramadan. In addition to the amateur players, some of the ex-players from PSM, Makassar Football Club, from the 1980s and 1990s would also participate. The teams would use names derived from the countries that were participating in the World Cup.
The Ramadan League has changed over time. In 2010, professional players started to participate. These included Ferdinand Alfred Sinaga (currently playing for Sriwijaya FC), Zulkifli Syukur (plays for Mitra Kukar) and Abdul Rahman (of PS Semen Padang). Earlier, it was only local professional players from South Sulawesi, who were playing for PSM (Makassar Football Club) at the time. Professional players from other cities and islands have become more interested in participating in this local competition.
The Cancellation of the Season and its Effect on the Ramadan League
After it was confirmed a couple of months ago that the top levels of Indonesian football would be cancelled, the Ramadan League suddenly came into sharper focus for the stakeholders in Indonesian football. The professional players who usually participate in the Indonesia Super League (ISL) suddenly had the opportunity to participate in the local competitions that are usually only watched by hundreds or a few thousand local supporters.
Crowds become larger when some of the bigger names of the ISL also join in the league. These include Evan Dimas Darmono, Paulo Sitanggang and Muchlis Hadi. Some more senior players such as Jajang Mulyana, Diego Michiels and Zulham Zamrun have also participated in the Ramadan League. This league gives supporters of local football in South Sulawesi the opportunity to watch some of the best players in Indonesia, play in their own neighborhoods on local pitches.
Local players from Makassar, such as Syamsul Chaeruddin and Rasyid Bakrie, however, remain as major drawvcards. Ronald Fagundez, who played for PSM from 2003-2006 players for Khaka FC in the Ramadan League. His presence gives the public a change to relive some of the glory that they enjoyed when he played for PSM ten years ago.
The Ramadan League is also a magnet for coaches, as well as professional players. Indra Sjafri – a former coach of the national team – took part in the Ramadan League as the coach of Bina Marga. While, Nahusam FC was coached by the well-known Tony Ho (a former coach of Persebaya) The reputation of the Ramadan League has improved thanks to the participation of some of Indonesia’s best domestic players. Many of the games are closely fought and enjoyable to watch.
Of course, putting together the teams that participate in the Ramadan League costs a bit of money. Even though it is considered to be an informal tarkam competition, there is still a level of pride and prestige attached to it. Some of the players are paid tens of thousands of dollars and have to be provided with accommodation throughout the duration of the league. Who knows what the ambitions are of the owners of the clubs that participate in this league. Whatever the case, the football-loving communities of Makassar always look forward to the event.
Every year, different stories emerge from the Ramadan League. But, the essence remains the same. That is, it is an informal competition designed to provide football-entertainment during the quiet month of Ramadan. It also provides local and professional players with the opportunity to make some money on the side. Nonetheless, the ambitions of the club owners are not always clear. The Ramadan League has become a competitive competition and a means for up-and-coming players to show their worth. It also provides an opportunity for professional players to stay in form. This league is different from other tarkam competitions, which only produces local ‘champions’, without attracting much broader interest from the footballing community.
The Ramadan League is not just a means for providing ‘entertainment’ and footballing euphoria. It gives local players a chance to compete against more established professionals. It gives the participants something to be proud of, regardless of how far they go as footballers. The young players hope to be picked up by professional ISL clubs. The national media coverage also promotes the status of football in Makassaar. This is what makes the Ramadan League the most prestigious tarkam competition.
The games for the Ramadan League are held at basic football fields, rather than fully-equipped stadiums. The fields are Hasanuddin Field, Telkom Field and various others in Makassar. The final, however, will be held at one of the city’s stadium. The games are held daily throughout Ramadan. This year, because of the increase in the number of teams participating, the competition started on June 7th, one week before the official start of Ramadan. Generally, the crowd numbers in the hundreds, but, when Evan Dimas played, it increased to several thousand. Dimas is one of the bright-young hopes of Indonesian football, and thus the public took the chance to see him playing in such simple circumstances.
There is no fee for attending the group-stage games. It is only at the semi final stage that an entrance fee is charged; i.e. when the games are first held in a stadium. The sponsors for the Ramadan League are also assisted financially by various philanthropists who cover some of the costs. The owners of the clubs that participate in the Ramadan League come from different backgrounds. Several of the clubs are funded by large companies such as Bosowa (a huge corporation with sectors that range from infrastructure to car dealerships), Pertamina (an oil company), Bank Mega, Sulselbar Syariah (an Islamic bank), Mitra Variasi. There are also teams that are funded by the electricity company as well as various telecommunications companies. Other clubs are funded by local Makassarese businessmen and politicians. There are also teams from government universities such as Hasanuddin University and Makassar State University.
Football in Indonesia is also interesting; there are always things happening outside of football that become inextricably linked to the game. I’m sure that the motivation of the owners of the clubs involved in the Ramadan League is to provide some (free) entertainment at the local community level. It is something that people enjoy and it can be enjoyed collectively. But, by considering who the owners are, we can also think of what they get out of being involved. For example, some of them are looking for a favourable reception from the community (like the business owners and the politicians), there is much advertising that is carried out during the Ramadan League. But, it is also an opportunity for young players to develop their skills as footballers. The politicians, who are club owners, also use the opportunity to promote themselves. Nonetheless, the public is aware of who these figures are and what their backgrounds are. The politicians and those who are affiliated with them, do not wear their party-specific colours or attributes to the games. While the beautiful game has been corrupted at the professional level in Indonesia, football – as the people’s game – can be easily accommodated and welcomed into the schedule of Ramadan.