Indonesia's issues with Israel delay FIFA U20 World Cup draw
Protesters wave Palestinian flag during a protest in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, March 20, 2023. Hundreds of conservative Muslims have marched to the streets Monday in Indonesia's capital to protest against the Israeli team's participation in the FIFA World Cup Under-20 in Indonesia. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

GENEVA (AP) — FIFA postponed the men’s Under-20 World Cup finals draw because of host nation Indonesia’s issues with Israel's qualification, the Indonesian football federation said Sunday.

The decision was announced five days before FIFA was due to make the 24-nation draw Friday on the island of Bali for the May 20-June 11 tournament, that includes debutant Israel.

Doubt was cast on the draw event last week when the governor of Bali, Wayan Koster, called for a ban on Israel playing there because of Indonesia’s diplomatic support for the Palestinian cause.

The six stadiums due to be used for the 52-game tournament include one in the Balinese city Gianyar.

Protests against Israel’s participation also were held in the Indonesian capital Jakarta last week by conservative Islamic groups.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation with about 277 million people and does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

However, Indonesian football and public authorities agreed to FIFA’s hosting requirements in 2019 before being selected to host the 2021 edition of the Under-20 World Cup. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the tournament to be postponed for two years.

Israel qualified last June for its first ever Under-20 World Cup when it reached the semifinals of the Under-19 European Championship. The team went on to lose the final to England.

FIFA declined to comment Sunday on the draw being postponed just eight weeks before the opening game.

If Indonesia fails to resolve its hosting issues over Israel, the national football federation risks being suspended by FIFA. That sanction can remove Indonesia from Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup that starts in October.

The Indonesia football federation president is Erick Thohir, a former co-owner of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. He is also a former president of Inter Milan, the storied Italian football club whose fans include FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Thohir and Infantino are also both members of the International Olympic Committee.

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