JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Improving the state of national soccer is undoubtedly a tall order President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has entrusted to his Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali.
Zainudin has accepted the challenge, otherwise Jokowi would have not installed last week the Golkar Party politician along with the other 33 ministers who form the Indonesia Onward Cabinet.
Soccer is not new to Zainudin. He helped establish a collegiate league in the 1980s and led the sports division of the Indonesian National Youth Committee (KNPI), the youth wing of Golkar when it was the ruling party under the New Order.
Soccer today, however, is a completely different world than what Zainudin was used to dealing with many years ago.
Match-fixing rings have prevailed in many layers of competition, luring many young talents with easy money at the expense of their professional careers and bright futures, hence the national team's recent performances.
Indonesia has been struggling at the international and even regional levels. The country now languishes in 171st in the latest FIFA world ranking, far below its best ranking of 76th in 1998.
The National Police have launched investigations into several match-fixing cases and arrested Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) executives, but so far no big fish have been caught.
Fortunately, Zainudin inherits a precious legacy from former sports minister Imam Nahrawi, who was declared a graft suspect.
Thanks to Imam's efforts, last week FIFA, the world soccer body, granted Indonesia the right to host the U-20 World Cup in 2021, beating out other bidders Brazil and Peru.
The event, to be held from May 20 to June 11, 2021, will add to Zainudin's workload, but it will give Indonesia a rare opportunity to increase its level of play. Zainudin could use the authorities at his disposal to help the national team match its world-class rivals in the quadrennial tournament.
Being the host, Indonesia automatically qualifies for the World Cup, which has helped the careers of footballers who currently shine in the world's most competitive leagues in Europe.
As the host, Indonesia has to prepare stadiums that meet FIFA standards. For the event, the PSSI selected 10 stadiums, namely Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, Pakansari Stadium in Cibinong, Bogor, I Wayan Dipta Stadium in Bali, Bandung Lautan Api Stadium in Bandung, Manahan Stadium in Surakarta, Central Java, Gelora Sriwijaya Stadium in Jakabaring, South Sumatra, Chandrabhaga Stadium and Wibawa Mukti Stadium in Bekasi, Mandala Krida Stadium in Yogyakarta and Gelora Bung Tomo Stadium in Surabaya.
Indonesia successfully hosted the Asian Games last year, so there are no qualms about its capability of organising the first ever U-20 soccer World Cup. Indonesia can even dream of hosting the FIFA World Cup someday in the future if it can show its mettle in 2021.
However, soccer is only one of the sports under Zainudin's auspices. His bigger mandate is to improve national sports governance.
It may seem simple, yet it will require a herculean effort to realise.
As Indonesia is bracing for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Manila one month from now and the Olympics in Tokyo next summer, Zainudin said he would make sure all athletes were ready for the two events. "I will also check whether our targets excessively burden them," he said.
Since 1999, Indonesia has never finished in the top four in its SEA Games outings. As for the Olympic Games, Indonesia has won gold medals only in badminton since the sport became a medal event in 1992.
Next year, Indonesia will pin its gold medal hopes on badminton again.
Zainudin's responsibility is to look beyond badminton as the sport in which Indonesia can excel in the Olympics.
The country has sporting talents in abundance among its 270 million population. The National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) prepared a road map for Zainudin to begin with.
Bappenas formulated a pyramid of national sports development, starting with Indonesia Berolahraga, fundamental training that focuses on recreational sports, and followed by Indonesia Berlatih, which focuses on interschool, university, provincial-level and club competition; Indonesia Bersaing, which focuses on the SEA Games, ASEAN School Games, ASEAN UniGames and National Games; and Indonesia Menang, which sits at the top of the pyramid, focusing on the Olympics, Asian Games and world championships.
According to Fritz E. Simanjuntak, who helped Bappenas formulate the pyramid, Indonesia should focus on only 10 Olympic sports in which Indonesia stands a chance to win medals: badminton, wall climbing, track and field, archery, weightlifting, taekwondo, gymnastics, rowing/canoeing, swimming and cycling.
The road map is an improvement of the sports development scheme created by the late sports guru MF Siregar.
National Sports Council (KONI) deputy chief Yayuk Basuki expressed disappointment with Jokowi's choice of a politician for the sports ministerial post.
The former Indonesian tennis queen said the decision demonstrated Jokowi's reluctance to put sports high on his agenda.
Zainudin needs to not only find the right people to work with, but also show his integrity and passion for sports if he is to fulfil his mandate. The public is waiting for the minister to prove his doubters wrong.
The writer is a columnist with the paper. The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.