Football: Indonesian FA suspends Super League after row with government

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - The new Indonesian Super League season will be suspended after only two games as officials try to negotiate a deal with the government to allow two title contenders to participate after issues arose over their ownership.

The Indonesian Professional Sports Agency (Bopi), sanctioned by the Youth and Sports Ministry, wanted Persebaya Surabaya and Arema Indonesia blocked from competing but the league and football association (PSSI) ignored them and kicked off the campaign with all 18 clubs on April 4.

Bopi responded by asking the police to refuse match permits for the two clubs, who each won and drew their opening matches, and wrote to the PSSI this week warning them of severe penalties.

The PSSI relented on Friday, saying they will halt after Saturday's two matches.

"PSSI through the decision of the Executive Committee approved the proposal... to suspend the competition's top tier," a statement posted on the PSSI website said. "Erwin Dwin Budiawan, member of the executive committee said the decision was taken by PSSI after considering the recommendation from Bopi. The league will be suspended from April 12 onwards until a new exco is elected in a congress in Surabaya."

Those PSSI elections are scheduled to take place on April 18 but the delay to the league may result in greater ramifications from world governing body Fifa, which reminded the PSSI last week to ignore interference.

Fifa takes a dim view of government meddling in the operations of local football associations and has often banned countries from international competitions for it.

A Fifa ban could prevent Indonesia from participating in the joint qualifying tournament for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup later this year.

That would cap a sorry end to what appeared to be a sound proposition by the government to clean up football governance in one of the world's most populous countries.

The 2015 season was due to kick off in February but that was delayed for six weeks while Bopi reviewed the financial health and ownership of all 18 clubs and only gave green light to five teams with 11 others passed subject to further tests.

Persebaya and Arema failed to make the cut.

The Jakarta Post reported on Friday that the owners of Persebaya face a May 12 court date after being sued by a rival firm which claims it had been robbed of the right to manage the club.

But league officials, already aghast at seeing their competition drop from 22 teams last year, were unwilling to cut to 16 and started with 18, leading to threats of legal action in a messy fallout.

A battle for power at the PSSI once saw two leagues and two national teams sprout up in Indonesia with the organisation infamously once run from a prison cell by Nurdin Halid.

Last year's relatively peaceful Super League campaign after the merger of the two leagues was thought to be a fresh start but Indonesian football looks headed for another spell in the doldrums.