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 By John Duerden

Indonesia risk losing a generation of players if FIFA ban continues

Indonesia have not played international football since being banned by FIFA last May.

Indonesian football fans should be thankful for the work carried out by various media organisations around the world, but especially in the UK, for their role in uncovering corruption and wrongdoing at FIFA.

That has led to a FIFA Congress on Feb. 26 in Zurich when a new president will be elected to replace the suspended Sepp Blatter. It also gives the country a chance to get the ban that the world governing body handed out last May overturned. FIFA will discuss whether to do so. Fans, coaches and players will be keeping their fingers crossed.

In April last year, the government froze the country's football association, known as the PSSI, because of a dispute over the eligibility of certain clubs to take part in the Indonesia Super League. FIFA then imposed a ban last May for political interference in the governance of the game.

That is nine months -- a full season -- of inactivity. The effects are clear to see. On Saturday evening, around 30,000 fans crammed into the Larkin Stadium to watch Johor Darul Ta'zim host Selangor in the opening round of the 2016 Malaysia Super League.

Further north, Thailand is preparing for a new season and, even more important than that, the nation is getting ready for next month's vital 2018 AFC World Cup qualifier against Iraq when a point will take the War Elephants to the third round of qualification for Russia. Even Singapore has the talents of Jermaine Pennant to look forward to.

Selangor winger Andik is one of few Indonesian players plying his trade outside of the country. (Photo credit:

But Indonesia? There is no big kickoff. There are no continental campaigns to look forward to and the World Cup is not a distant dream as it is for regional neighbours -- it is officially impossible.

"There are some competitions organised but this is not a substitute for a normal football season," Andik Vermansyeh, one of the few Indonesians playing FIFA-sanctioned football told ESPN FC.

Some clubs have been involved in competitions such as the President's Cup but as the Malaysia-based maestro suggests while it may be better than nothing, it is far from ideal.

With clubs not playing as much as they should and sponsors reluctant to stay involved in a domestic game that seems to be going nowhere, there just isn't that much money around.

"I am worried that players are stopping to play because there of the situation," Andik added. "This is a problem as if there are no places to play and no games then you have to start thinking about other ways to make money. I hope the situation is solved soon as there is a lot of talent in Indonesia."

If clubs can't pay players, they also can't pay coaches or even administrative staff and those with knowledge of the local football market. If these start doing something else then there is a real danger that they could be lost to the local game for ever.

Players like Evan Dimas cannot progress their careers should the ban be extended.

Already, coaching courses and youth programmes have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Even if the ban ends tomorrow, it is going to take a lot longer for the country to get back on track even to where it used to be while many of the neighbours have been moving forward.

For the ban to be overturned, the Indonesian government has to take a seat on the ad hoc committee that FIFA set up to try and run the game in the absence of the PSSI and ease the way forward for the country to return to the international fold. It also has to iron out its differences with PSSI. There have been many meetings and progress has been made but it is still unclear if the government wants to take advantage of the favourable timing and push the changes through in the coming days.

Much depends on the actions of Agum Gumelar, the head of the committee. Gumelar is in Kuala Lumpur this week to meet with the AFC's Executive Committee.

There will be smaller-scale chats with senior AFC figures who have roles in FIFA, such as Tengku Adbullah of Malaysia and Kohzo Tashima of Japan, both of whom are on the world governing body's powerful Executive Committee.

Sheikh Salman, a front-runner to become the new FIFA president, will also meet the representatives. There is some hope at the PSSI that Salman would prefer to have such Asian problems ironed out as he ascends to the top job and would like to see voting rights returned.

Ultimately however, the ball is in Jakarta's court. The time is right to get Indonesia back onto the international stage before more damage is done. If it doesn't happen this month, the ban will likely enter a second year and that would be disastrous.

Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.


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