Monday, March 19, 2012


The Slow Pace Of Reform

Ok so we have had two gobfests over the weekend about Indonesian football. One involving the PSSI or the football association that is recognized by FIFA and as such is the official body. The other was held by a counter organization that claims it iis part of the official PSSI; they just won’t talk to them! They held their own meeting and appointed their own officials.

This whole nonsense has gotten tiresome. Surely there is no one out there who still believes this is about football? Never has been and never will be.

A strong FIFA could have nipped this in the bud years ago. The previous head of the PSSI spent some time behind bars yet carried on running the game, holding meetings, dictating policy despite this being in contravention of FIFA’s own statutes.

Had they taken action then, either to suspend Indonesia from international football or disband the FA then maybe we wouldn’t quite be in this mess. There would still be a mess but perhaps a different kind of mess.

But the dinosaurs at FIFA who don’t recognize corruption under their noses did nothing despite this flagrant breach of their rules. They allowed the wound to fester and we all know what happens to festering wounds.

To expect any kind of reconciliation is naïve. The rival camps aren’t in the mood for parley. Indeed, they seem to be in the mood for little else than awarding each other plum jobs and showing off their latest batik shirts at the latest conference.

Football is never mentioned and of course it won’t be. Like I’ve said before, this ain’t about football.

Football is an extension of the host society. Germany; is wonderously effiecient, England’s is expensive and regulated while Indonesia’s is a vibrant mix of ugliness and moments of supreme beauty.

To attempt to understand the crisis in football it helps to understand the host country and where it is. Indonesia is a new country with sprawling borders encompassing a large number of ethnic groups and languages. For the first 50 years of its history, a history achieved after a bloody fight with the Dutch and their proxies, the country has been ruled by dictators; first Sukarno then Suharto.

Other countries suffered under dictators or even ‘indifferent’ elected leaders but in those countries corruption was seen as a game everyone could play. In Indonesia, especially under Suharto, everything was funneled towards the centre. Nothing happened without the say so of the ruling family. And they were a ruling family in all senses of the word.

Democracy is less than 15 years old. Figures from the old guard are still in key positions as are, more importantly their family members and acolytes and they don’t want reform. Turkeys rarely vote for Christmas. Then we have the generation who went did their education during those years. They were taught a certain way and having been believers all their lives, they are not about to squander what they see as their legitimacy for the sake of loony western ideas of fairness and freedom.

Look at the pictures of those at the conferences. You won’t see many young faces there. Instead you see the remnants of the old guard brought up to do things a certain way and they sure as hell aren’t going to change their ways any time soon.

Democracy is a new concept. Parties are defined by personalities more than policies and the electorate, used to being told what to think, is only just starting to try and hold their elected officials accountable. The elites are aware of this of course and every once in a while throw the masses a morsel; usually a minion involved in a corruption case while circling the wagons round the top brass.

Civil society is only just starting to make its voice heard in a number of areas from bicycle paths in Jakarta to anti corruption campaigners.

Politics is more stable now than it has been since the end of the dictatorship but that is a relative word. Parties ebb and flow depending on their funding while political marriages of convenience are the norm as they seek to maximize their support at elections and after when the deal making is done for who gets what cabinet seat.

For centuries shadow puppet plays were the major source of entertainment for the masses and Sukarno, Indonesia’s first post independence leader with his Javanese background understood this. He knew politics would be unfathomable for much of the country so he would litter his speeches with metaphors from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana which he knew his audiences would understand. In return the people saw a leader who could speak their language and they flocked to him.

The shadow play sees one dimensional puppets acting out stories against a backdrop of a single sheet. It’s hardly Wallace and Gromit and the whole point of the play was that although you could see what the puppets were saying and doing the audience knew they were being controlled by an invisible hand whose motives may not always be explicit. Perhaps this form of entertainment explains much of the cynicism that permeates the Indonesian soul today. They know they’re being taken for a ride, they just often don’t know who is riding the horse.

The current political deadlock in many ways reflects a shadow play. Many of the characters involved are linked to their own puppet master and very often a story that becomes headline news is little more than a thinly disguised attack on a major player who is never referred to. The players of course know.

It’s much like how China watchers used to try and understand the Byzantine world of Communist Party politics especially under Chairman Mao Tse Tung. Stories were pored over for what wasn’t mentioned, pictures examined for who wasn’t there.

Against this backdrop, the crisis in Indonesian football looks daunting; an almost impossible task to manage. And for outsiders unaware of all the nuances and the subtleties it probably is. Reform will come but will come at a slow, slow pace and nothing any outsider can do will speed that process.

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