Indonesia’s footballing culture reflects the diversity of the nation and the byzantine nature of contestations over politics, identity, religion and region. The adminsitration and playing of the game is not regarded as being ‘modern’; it is not ‘sepakbola modern’. The term, ‘modern’ here is a synonym for orderly; clean; predictable; professional; corruption-free; independent and transparent.
For fans brought up on a heavy diet of the Premier League: any domestic game in Indonesia feels along way from such an ideal of sporting neoliberal capitalism. The curious thing is though, that most football throughout the world exists on a spectrum that more closely relates to the daily reality of football in Indonesia than it does to the extreme luxuries of the Premier League or Champions League. For me, the elite leagues of Europe (but the Premier League in particular) – just as the super-elite leagues of other sports – are poor representations of their codes and given undue attention. Yes, seeing brilliant sports women and men in action can be transcendental – just as listening to music, watching a film, reading a novel, or hiking a mountain – but the defining of ‘the best’ can also be subject to greater scrutiny. Quality and elite ability can be mixed into a variety of contextual factors: cultural, aesthetic, political and economic.
So, by FIFA’s judgement, and by the PSSI’s own judgement, and to many fans alike, Indonesian football is indeed not-yet-modern (belum modern, in Indonesian). This is seen in the pitches, the stadia, the administration, the crowd behaviour, the kinds of food for sale, the merchandising, the players’ wages, the conduct of the referee. At every level of the game one can be struck by its haphazard, chaotic and improvised quality. Curiously, these qualities are also not solely the domain of Indonesia: the implementation and application of VAR at the 2018 World Cup was also haphazard and chaotic and highly contentious. And as for FIFA vis a vis “corruption”, well, we know the story.
Upon the realisation in 2007 that the APBD could no longer be legally used for providing financial support to football clubs, one commentator pointed his criticism squarely at the PSSI, and Nurdin Halid in particular, for permitting an amateurish culture to be maintained. According to Sanjoyo, “there are no clear standards in regards to wages and contracts – particularly for foreign players – rules change at any moment, sanctions and punishments are anulled to protect various parties” (Anton Sanjoyo, “Bayi yang Tak Kunjung Besar”, 2nd February 2007, Kompas, p.38). Sanjoyo argued that rather than fostering professionalism, the PSSI preventing it from emerging through encouraging clubs to “drink the milk of the ABPD” (2nd February 2007, Kompas, p.38).