How does a soccer administrator reconcile encouraging the young to enjoy healthy football when the sport is sponsored by companies selling beer and cigarettes?
“That’s a hard question,” admitted Fuad Ardiansyah, business director of PT Arema Indonesia, owner of Arema Malang, the runners up to Persipura Jayapura in this year’s Super League.
“The problem is that it costs about Rp 50 billion (US $4.35 million) to manage our senior team and Rp 5 billion (US $435,000) for our youth academy.
“We’ve now added a telecommunications company sponsor – there’s no difficulty there. I don’t smoke or drink and I wouldn’t want my three sons to do so.
“But what else can we do? Apart from a ticket tax reduction we don’t get anything from the government.”
It’s a dilemma not exclusive to Indonesia. Although tobacco sponsorship of sport is banned in many countries alcohol advertising is often allowed, angering those who claim the liquor lobby is trying to conflate beer with football.
“We don’t promote the products, just the names as part of the companies’ corporate social responsibility programs,” Fuad said. However the brands and the firms share the same name.
“Personally I’d like to see tobacco and alcohol taxes distributed to sporting groups – but that’s not possible under the present law. I hope one day we’ll be independent of tobacco sponsorship.”
(Some Australian States have independent statutory boards that sponsor sports and arts using tobacco tax. Venues must be smoke-free and promote healthy living.).
Fuad, 37, started supporting Arema when the team was formed in 1987. His Dad, a milk cooperative manager, saw no future in football so sent his son to get a masters degree in international marketing.
Fuad studied in New Zealand where soccer is sidelined by rugby, but the nation leads the world in dairy production.
Back in his homeland he was in time to catch the milk wave which saw huge investments in dairy cows to satisfy an increasingly thirsty local market.
He now manages a modern milk treatment plant in Pasuruan, East Java, producing yoghurt and other dairy products rarely seen before in the Indonesian market.
That’s his afternoon job. Other times the soccer tragic is in Arema’s Malang headquarters creating what he calls “industrial football” with wads of plans. These include a new 60,000 seat stadium with shopping mall; the fan base has expanded and the existing two venues are too small.
“I don’t regret not becoming a soccer player,” he said. ”Now I can mix with all the greats and see them play.
“Back in the 1980s it wasn’t wise to walk the streets on the evening of a match, particularly if the home side lost.
“Supporters were just mobs – we had more than 30 gangs and there were fights every weekend.
“We had to turn that around because sponsors don’t want to be associated with violence. We worked with the police, the army, civic leaders, district heads and the gangs. It took about ten years.
“Arema supporters are now among the best behaved in the nation. I want our soccer to be a family sport, where women and children feel relaxed. (The term ‘Aremania’ now means a dedicated fan rather than a one-eyed thug. Malang is full of Arema kitsch – mainly featuring snarling lions.)
“We’ve got to get all clubs working together to support the national team and leave our local identities behind. Next year we’ll play in France and Britain. We want supporters to change their thinking and open their minds.”
Which is going to be difficult in a game as tribal as soccer, though Fuad said he was optimistic. The Under 19s, that electrified Indonesia last month (Oct) by beating defending champions South Korea 3-2, included an Arema player, midfielder Dio Permana.
The win means Indonesia will enter the 47-member Asian Football Confederation 2014 season playing in Myanmar.
Arema belongs to the Pelita Jaya Cronus (PJC) consortium of clubs in Uruguay, Belgium and Australia. They are all held by the Bakrie Group linked to Golkar presidential hopeful Aburizal Bakrie.
Young blood is recruited from around the nation. This year 1,200 applied, though only 400 were selected. They are schooled in Malang when not practising. The best get the chance to stay and play overseas at one of the PJC clubs.
“Soccer is a marvellous way to break down cultural and language barriers,” Fuad said.
“For my first week in NZ I wanted to go home. Then I played soccer and the doors opened for me. I found friends. It was so much easier to adapt.”
Having controlled much of the violence the next soccer sickness to be tackled is racism. Fuad said it remained a problem and was particularly directed at West Irian players.
The approach is to adopt FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) rules and penalize clubs that tolerate abuse.
For years Indonesian soccer was trashed by people more concerned with cash and status than raising national pride. Corruption was widespread. The so-called beautiful game was ugly behind the goal posts. Under the Soeharto New Order administration redundant generals were parachuted into government-funded clubs as administrators.
The sport is now kicked around by big business and politics, keen to impress the fans and get their votes. Two leagues were established – the Indonesian Super (ISL) and Indonesian Premier (IPL).
Indonesia is a nation where residents can enjoy a game right outside the own gate. Turf-denied kids practise on the street using sandals as goal posts while their mates warn of approaching traffic.
Fuad agreed the lack of facilities is kicking the sport in the shins. Despite Indonesia’s huge population of 240 million and vast talent pool, the nation ranks 170 in the 209 countries that play.
Yet he remains upbeat: “Next year the ISL will merge with its rival the IPL, and that’s got to be good,” he said.
“I don’t believe matches are fixed. The sport is clean now. Our players are getting paid. We’re getting there.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 11 November 2013)