Saturday, August 18, 2012

Become one with the madness

Many barrels of ink and oodles of bandwidth have been spilled bemoaning the chaotic state of Indonesian football. For all that time and energy spent kvetching, though, precious little progress has been made in breaking the lengthy deadlock.
Recent developments offer little hope for a solution. The Indonesian Super League intends to restart despite talks to establish a single top flight, ISL stars who answered call-ups by the Merah Putih have been punished by their clubs and the Indonesian Football Savior Committee (KPSI) plans to establish its own national team. Discord seems to be the status quo.

But perhaps we’re thinking about this the wrong way. The first law of quantitative economics states that “if a lot is good, more is better,” after all, so having twice as much football as other countries can only be a good thing.

Sure, it’s tempting to give in to frustration and demand FIFA finally follow through on its threat to ban Indonesia from international competition, but who does that really hurt? The ISL finished an entire season as a rebel league without any consequences, so FIFA sanctions would have little effect on it. The same cannot be said of the Indonesian Premier League, for which FIFA and Asian Football Confederation recognition are its only meaningful chips in the game.

Instead of continuing to gnash our teeth and rend our garments, let us embrace the chaos. The inertia that keeps the ISL and IPL separate is a boon to so many people. Just think of all the secretaries, assistants and mid-level functionaries who are still in a job thanks to these leagues’ refusal to compromise. Why won’t those job-killers at FIFA think of the mid-level functionaries?

It’s not just the people in the league offices. Twice as many leagues mean twice as many players, club staff and referees – even if receiving a monthly salary is at best a 50-50 proposition for said players and staff. Plus, twice as many roster spots to fill means the average Indonesian’s chances of becoming a professional footballer are twice as good. Why are those cultural imperialists at FIFA trying to crush the dreams of hard-working Indonesians?

Football’s sphere of economic influence spans so much further, though. Twice as many stadium rentals; twice as many security personnel; twice as many passengers for taxis, ojeks and buses; twice as many people selling “unofficial” merchandise at official events; twice as much football on TV to boost ratings – this is a central piece of the Indonesian economy we’re talking about here. Why are those greedheads at FIFA so eager to deprive this emerging economy of its rightful revenue?

Don’t think of this as another example of short-sighted gridlock. Instead, consider it a victory for the grand Indonesian tradition of dialogue ad nauseam. Last week, The Economist said of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, “By doing very little, Indonesia’s president is doing fine.” Like Rome’s Fabius Maximus did to Hannibal of Carthage during the Second Punic War, Indonesia has a chance to bend FIFA to its will and continue reaping the economic benefits of more football as long as it continues to do as little as possible.

It’s not as though FIFA or the AFC have shown much interest in hurrying along the process. The only deadline in the memorandum of understanding signed in June by the KPSI, ISL and Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) involved holding a national congress by the end of this year, and even then it included no sanctions or method of punishment in the event of failure. If the continental and world football governing bodies can’t be bothered to show leadership or demand accountability, it’s no wonder Indonesia’s squabbling factions have found better things to do than fixing the rift in the sport in the months since signing the MoU.

So let’s learn to stop worrying and love the deadlock. Greet this impasse with the same benign resignation used when facing Indonesia’s increasingly traffic-choked streets. After all, having twice as much football can only benefit the people who really matter in this country – bureaucrats.

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