Six weeks into the breakaway Indonesian Premier League and it shows no sign of going away despite the efforts of the game’s national governing body.
Indeed, attracting players like Lee Hendrie, Irfan Bachdim and Shahril Ishak suggests that players’ concerns about the league’s status are receding.
The Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) has threatened to deport foreign players in the league, but until now the government have been loathe to take such drastic action, perhaps worrying about the PR disaster if a former England international were to be kicked out the country.
To be sure, the addition of players like Hendrie, Irfan and Ishak are a feather in the cap for the league. They don’t come cheap — with a reported combined annual salary in excess of $1million — and it’s debatable whether any Indonesia Super League club in the “official” league would have been able to afford their wages. Or whether they would have even been paid. Or paid something different to the terms in their contracts.
The welfare of players is one of the cornerstones of the IPL. For too long, we have been hearing of salaries going unpaid and players seeking redress from the PSSI and FIFA, usually without luck.
In the breakaway league, salaries are guaranteed by the IPL meaning players can just get on with kicking a ball around. And, like in any business, a happy worker is a productive player.
Brendan Schwab is familiar with the shenanigans that are par for the course in the official ISL and Premier Division. Among his many jobs, he is the chairman of the players’ union, FIFPro Asia, which seeks to safeguard players’ welfare in the region.
Schwab was instrumental in the setting up of the Indonesian Players’ Union (APPI), under the leadership of Arya Abhiseka.
“This work exposed me to the financial problems of the current league, and the vast potential of Indonesian football,” Schwab said.
It didn’t take long for the affable Australian to realize the structural problems underlining the game in Indonesia. In fact, he had seen nothing like it, saying “the circumstances of contract breaches in Indonesia are the most serious I have seen in football anywhere in the world.”
The case of Victor Simon is just one of many examples that have been referred to FIFA. The midfielder signed a contract with ISL club Persisam Samarinda for Rp 275 million (about $31,500) but only received Rp 175 million.
Schwab was actively involved in the setting up of the IPL as an adviser. Working alongside Arya, who had been appointed general manager of the new league, Schwab drew on Australia’s experience where a moribund league body had voted itself out of existence and a new federation was set up to develop football in a country where rugby and Australian Rules dominate.
What the IPL was attempting could conceivably cause a lot of headaches. With the PSSI refusing to recognize the league, players, coaches and officials faced the very real threat of sanctions.
However, with the PSSI leadership preoccupied by turmoil within their own body ahead of leadership elections due this year they have proffered very little beyond expressing their distaste at the new league and restating the official FIFA view that only member associations can run professional football leagues.
Schwab is disappointed with PSSI’s stance.
“In my view, PSSI should be open to endorsing the IPL and working together to promote football in Indonesia, Schwab said. “The IPL aims to run football on a commercial basis to ensure the clubs and the game can operate in a financially viable and independent manner. Commercial viability is essential if football is to grow in any country, including Indonesia.”
However, given the animosity between the two camps and their backers, there is little prospect of them working together. Schwab believes that the IPL can continue without any official recognition but “clearly everyone wants all football to be played within the official football family.”
But despite the politicking, Schwab remains dedicated to the players’ cause. He explains the disagreement is between the PSSI and the IPL. He feels it is wrong to “to penalize the players who are not a party to that disagreement.”
The PSSI election is now in disarray following the appeals committee’s decision to reject all candidates for the post of chairman and the association is now thought to be asking FIFA for guidance. The attention seems to be moving away from the IPL and instead focusing squarely on the shoulders of the PSSI. Once this messy situation has been cleaned up, all football fans will hope that some accord will be reached between the two leagues. As Schwab says, “we would love to see the IPL and PSSI working together.”
A change in the PSSI leadership might well see that become a reality.
Antony Sutton is the man behind the Jakarta Casual blog, where he offers his comments and opinions on world football.