Southeast Asia Asia

OPINION: If Indonesia Were to Host the 2021 AFC Cup ASEAN Group Stages, Don’t Play it in Java!

The secretary general of the Football Federation of Indonesia (PSSI), Yunus Nusi, has confirmed on Monday that the federation has received an offer from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to host the ASEAN Zone of the upcoming 2021 AFC Cup group stages. With COVID-19 cases surging throughout the archipelago, Football Tribe Asia’s Cokorda Krishna Sadhana feels that stadiums outside of Java should host the AFC Cup should Indonesia are to be given hosting rights.

With Singapore withdrawing themselves from hosting this year’s AFC Cup group stages for the ASEAN Zone due to their own surge of COVID-19 cases and the stringent quarantine procedures that came with it, the confederation has reached out to the PSSI with an offer for them to replace Singapore as AFC Cup hosts.

“The AFC has offered us the chance to host this year’s AFC Cup group stage games,” said Yunus as quoted from, “We’re currently coordinating with the clubs regarding this offer.”

Prior to the AFC’s offer, Persis Solo has declared their willingness to host AFC Cup games at their Manahan Stadium. This willingness is amplified further by a statement made by Solo mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka. Gibran happens to be the older brother of Kaesang Pangarep, the current owner of Persis.

“The Manahan Stadium is ready to host international events, such as this year’s AFC Cup,” declared Gibran as quoted from Bolalob.

However, in the three weeks since Gibran declared Solo’s willingness to host AFC Cup games, the city found itself being part of a region that saw a significant spike of COVID-19 cases. Thanks to the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in the regency of Kudus, the province of Central Java has became one of the regions worst-hit by the second wave of the pandemic overwhelming Indonesia.

Central Java are currently 3rd in the top 10 provinces with most COVID-19 cases, raising concerns that hosting AFC Cup games there would pose a risk to the teams participating in the competition.

Hosting games at the Gelora Bung Karno, the Madya Stadium, the Pakansari Stadium and the Patriot Chandrabhaga Stadium are also quite risky as the Jabodetabek region is currently the region worst-hit by the pandemic in Indonesia. The high case load in East Java also made hosting games in locations such as the Gelora Bung Tomo, the Gelora Delta, and the Kanjuruhan Stadium a huge risk.

Which is why, the author feels that should Indonesia are to be given hosting rights for this year’s AFC Cup, it should be held in stadiums outside of Java.

The most likely candidate would be the Kapten I Wayan Dipta Stadium in Gianyar, Bali.

Bali might be number 11 in the list of provinces worst-hit by the pandemic, but vaccination programs are being accelerated in the resort island. The Bali government seek to establish green zones as soon as possible to restore tourism within the island and this could play into the region’s favor should the 2021 AFC Cup is to be held in Indonesia.

As for the stadium itself, the proud home of Bali United is currently undergoing the finishing touches of a renovation project that would see the Dipta capable of hosting games in the upcoming 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Another candidate would be the Gelora Sriwijaya in Palembang, South Sumatra.

14th in the list of regions affected by the pandemic, South Sumatra has their fair share of hosting international sporting events with the likes of the 2004 Indonesian National Games, 2007 AFC Asian Cup, and 2018 Asian Games being held successfully at the Gelora Sriwijaya. Home of Liga 2 Indonesia side Sriwijaya FC, the stadium is also another host stadium for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup and should works there are completed in time, the stadium should be able to host AFC Cup games.

Prior to writing this article, the author is mulling the inclusion of the Batakan, Aji Imbut, and Papua Bangkit Stadiums for AFC Cup games, however he decided against it for a number of reasons.

The province of East Kalimantan being in the top 10 regions worst-affected by the pandemic is the main reason behind the omissions of Persiba Balikpapan’s Batakan Stadium and Mitra Kukar’s Aji Imbut Stadium, which is a huge shame since they’re quite capable stadiums of hosting international events.

As for the Papua Bangkit Stadium, the stadium was constructed for the upcoming 2020 Indonesian National Games that will be hosted by the province of Papua and a conflict of interest with the organizers might arise should the stadium is to be used as an AFC Cup venue, with the same conflict preventing Persipura Jayapura from using their Mandala Stadium.

The final candidates might come out of left field, but the author feels that North Sulawesi’s Klabat Stadium and Aceh’s Harapan Bangsa Stadium might be able to fit the bill.

With both North Sulawesi and Aceh being quite low in the list of provinces affected by COVID-19, the opportunity is there to introduce these two provinces to the international audience by holding AFC Cup games there.

The 45000-capacity Harapan Bangsa Stadium has seen some international football action before with the 2017 Aceh World Solidarity Tsunami Cup and with a little extra work done here and there to satisfy AFC regulations, the home of Persiraja Banda Aceh might be able to host AFC Cup games this year.

As for the Klabat, the presence of an ambitious side in the form of Sulut United has helped transformed the stadium for the better. Persipura are also using the stadium as their temporary home before they’re allowed to use the Mandala again, which means that extensive renovation work has been done in the 10000-capacity stadium. Some extra work must also be done to ensure that the Klabat would meet AFC standards, but the author felt that the stadium can be used as a good alternative venue.

However, in the end the decision of accepting the AFC’s offer to host AFC Cup games within Indonesia would fall in the hands of the PSSI. Should the PSSI accepts the AFC’s offer, they must consider these stadiums outside of Java to ensure that the 2021 AFC Cup would be organized without a hitch amidst the ever-worsening situation of the pandemic.