Football Nationalism

Football Nationalism

Nasionalisme Sepakbola Indonesia

Garuda di Dadaku – The Garuda on My Chest – is the title of a series of feature films telling the story of a boy’s desire to play for the Indonesian national football team. The title of the films was also adopted by Prabowo Subianto during the 2014 presidential campaign. Needless to say, there were no concerns about contravention of copyright – they had already used the shamelessly derivative ‘Indonesia Bangkit!’ (Rise Indonesia!) by Ahmad Dhani and thus incurring the wrath of Queen’s Brian May. The appropriation of football into the national imagination at the behest of politicians and ideologues is not reserved for nations with great footballing histories – Germany, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina – but it is also used for telling the rise of the Indonesian nation and is used to articulate and express various complexities in pseudo-nationalist conflicts. At the major international football matches, the Indonesian national team – known as the Garudas – can expect not only a crowd of some 100,000 at Gelora Bung Karno Stadion, but, also the presence of their president.

partai psim

My team over my nation

Wandi Barboy’s useful table of ‘Performance History’ of the national football teams indicates how poor the team’s prestasi has been (2011, pp.8-11). Indonesia’s sole encounter with the World Cup – the world’s most prestigious team sporting event – was as the ‘Dutch East Indies’ in 1938. In 1950, 1954, 1958, 1962 the team either ‘withdrew’ (mengundurkan diri) or ‘didn’t participate’ (tidak berpatisipasi) owing to the vehement confrontational politics of the Sukarno government, who was struggling to articulate a distinct national identity for the recently independent nation. Sukarno was ultimately unsuccessful in his efforts to disrupt the global sporting infrastructure  (see Brown 2008 and Colombijn 2000). Between 1974-2010 Indonesia ‘failed to qualify’ (gagal lolos).

Timnas 1938 - World Cup - France

Indonesia, sort of, at the 1938 World Cup in France

Written in 2011, Barboy rather hopefully leaves a question mark as to whether or not Indonesia would participate in the 2014 World Cup. Apart from qualifying for the 1938 World Cup in France, Indonesia’s other greatest success was at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, where they proudly held the USSR to a draw at Olympic Park. At the Asian Games, Indonesia has never made it out of the Group Stage, and, with much national shame, they failed to qualify for the 2011 tournament. Despite this history of failure, Barboy’s book is still titled “Uncovering the Secrets of the Indonesian National Team”. The book provides rudimentary biographical summaries of the current national squad. But, the book is naive and hagiographical. He positions the national team as offering an alternative to national politics as well as filling a gap in national pride. His conclusion: “Indonesia can be proud. Indonesia is no longer looked down upon internationally. Indonesia continues to reap success in every game it plays. Amidst ongoing political troubles, the national team continues to give us succor and a sense of pride in being born in and belonging to the land known as Indonesia (2011, p.102).”

ramang-vs-soviet 1956 olympicsIndonesia against USSR at Melbourne’s Olympic Park, 1956

The largely uniform underperformance of Indonesian football teams at the international level has been only countered by the minor success of Indonesia’s Under 19 team – also known as Timnas U-19 or by their nickname, Garuda Muda (Young Garudas). Semangat Membatu: Official Story Timnas U-19 (A Spirit as Strong as Stone: The Official Story of the National Under 19 Team) is the ‘official story’ of the Timnas U-19 and their trajectory towards becoming a better team, to strengthening Indonesian soccer and ‘giving the nation a better name’. Or,  as the coach of the team states, he has players who ‘don’t want their respect or the pride of the nation to be trodden upon by anyway. And for that, they will struggle with all of their might’ (Gunawan & Utomo, 2014, p.6).

Gunawan, a graduate from the philosophy department at Gajah Mada University, co-authors the book with Guntur Cahyo  Utomo – the Timnas’s U-19 ‘mental coach’. The narrative is framed as a ‘cerita inspiratif’ (story of inspiration) and thus, rather than seeking to provide a critical look at the manner in which youth soccer is developed in Indonesia, the narrative contains many half-baked observations on the mental strength of the players, their desire and commitment, the years of hard work of the coaching staff and the rather half-baked success of the team. Semangat Membatu, may or may not have become the bestseller that Bentang publisher (in Yogyakarta) seems to have been hoping it would become. But, the book does indicate a broader desire to find a national football team that can give pride to ‘the nation’. The narrative follows the familiar tropes of sport and football as being sources of moral and ethical guidance which can provide lessons for the fans and players themselves. This effort is a little forced. The stories of people in remote villages coming out to watch the ‘national heroes’ of the Young Garudas are somewhat problematic, and probably somewhat unrepresentative of the Young Garudas experience. These are players and a team still in process; the book speaks of the urgency of finding ‘hope’ and the broader failure of national footballing infrastructure. The up-close access Gunawan has to the U-19 team, regretfully, hasn’t produced a critical encounter.

Sejumlah pesepak bola tim nasional Indonesia, melakukan selebrasi usai mengalahkan timnas Vietnam dalam pertandingan babak final AFF U-19 Championship 2013 di Gelora Delta Sidoarjo, Jatim, Minggu (22/9) malam.The glory, the glory, the glory

The official history of football in Indonesia is articulated in Sepakbola Indonesia: Alat Perjuangan Bangsa (Soccer in Indonesia: A Tool of National Struggle) (Tulis, 2010). The history is divided neatly into the eras of the independence struggle and subsequent political administration: from ‘the national uprising’, through the Japanese era, liberal democracy until the reformasi era and the era of ‘modern football’, which is only given as beginning in 2004. The author draws on the quotations of national leaders who endorse the role of sport, football and the PSSI articulating the dreams, shape and identity of Indonesia. As with Semangat Membatu, Sepakbola Indonesia also presents an idealised reading of Indonesia’s footballing history. The narrative is one of a unified effort in which all players and stakeholders contribute to the furthering of Indonesia’s footballing performance in spite of the (difficult) circumstances. The number of Chinese-Indonesians in the team that participated in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics is not commented upon (Tulis, 2010, pp.118-123). This narrative is a continuation of New Order narratives that ignored the large role played by Chinese-Indonesians in the sporting and cultural life of the nation. Reformasi may have taken place some twelve years prior to the book’s writing, but, a persistent New Orderly imaginary remains.


 National tools, New Order era

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