Missing the Goals
    Category: Issues & Ideas By : Barrett Hansen Read : 1325 Date : Monday, November 04, 2013 - 08:28:28

    Rudi Astriadi / Reuters

    Indonesia's football landscape changed in October 2010 when Medco Energy tycoon Arifin Panigoro founded the Liga Primer Indonesia (LPI). The league was meant to challenge the Indonesian Super League (ISL), which had been hit by charges of mismanagement since its founding in 2008. Arifin assembled a team of professionals to construct a league and teams, all of which he financed through about $80 million in loans.

    The ISL and LPI then engaged in a bitter rivalry for three years. The conflict got so bad that President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono himself had to step in to sort out the mess in July 2010. The President assembled a committee meant to merge the two leagues. The group also restructured the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI), the country's only FIFA-sanctioned football governing body, by replacing the 11 member executive committee with individuals largely aligned with Arifin. 

    That step did little to heal the rift between the two leagues. In late 2011 four ISL supporters complained to the FIFA about board decisions deemed unethical. The offending committee members were jettisoned from the PSSI. That move prompted another schism when the four members reunited with the former ISL leadership to form the Indonesian Soccer Rescue Committee (KSPI), which resurrected the ISL in early 2012 as a breakaway league.

    As the power struggle continued atop the PSSI, the competing domestic leagues left the sport in utter disarray—Indonesia had two national teams, and dozens of unpaid players. The FIFA was angry that Indonesia was not taking better care of the sport and its players, and letting two rival leagues exist. The FIFA asked the government to reunite the leagues, reinstate the expelled executive committee, and introduce new regulations to prohibit any more breakups. The government cooperated with a second committee that drew up new legislation and inked agreements that would put an end to the sorry episode in time for the 2014 season.

    Yet not everyone is confident the two leagues have fully buried the hatchet. Halim Mahfudz, one of Panigoro's professionals and the secretary general of the PSSI until February, says three FIFA-sanctioned memoranda of understanding should help heal the rift between the two groups on some issues. Yet beyond that, he doesn't seem much cause for hope.

    Soccer is widely popular in Indonesia but this instability is in no one's interest. Ultimately, it spooks fans, sponsors and investors, sending them overseas to find opportunities. One example? Dua Kelinci, a domestic snacks maker, agreed to sponsor Real Madrid in 2011. The company's chief executive, Edwin Sutiono, said that though he'd like to back a local club, poor management at both the league and the clubs remains a deterrent.

    Halim believes the PSSI would succeed if it were run more like a business. “Soccer is an industry,” he says. “We have to attract people who want to be part of it.” One crucial element in this process is having a wider spectrum of fans—specifically high-end ones who will pay for VIP sections and corporate boxes, which are not part of any Indonesia stadium at present. That's a huge missed opportunity—baseball and basketball team owners in the U.S. count on luxury box sales for up to 20% of total revenue.