Persebaya (Almost) Falls Victim to U-20 World Cup

*This post was published in Indonesian language in on 8 February 2020.

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By: Renata Melati Putri

Banners conveying satirical message “World Cup for now, Persebaya forever” were seen in various parts of Surabaya city. Posts with similar tone were also seen circulating on social media, echoing up the message.

This expression was not without reason. In mid-January 2020, supporter community of Persebaya Surabaya football team, Bonek, was faced with complications when requesting permit to use two of Surabaya’s pride stadiums, Gelora Bung Tomo (GBT) and Gelora Sepuluh November (G10N) due to renovation that will take place throughout the year 2020.

However, the expression turned into a controversy as many people confused Bonek’s voice of heart with rejection of the upcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2021. Bonek’s north tribune coordinator Husin Ghozali made a clarification, explaining that there was never a consensus among the coordinators to stand against the World Cup.  

The phrase was actually meant to be an encouragement for Bonek in their attempts to see their beloved team play in their own city instead of traveling to other places because of the World Cup. 

Persebaya’s endeavors, backed up solidly by Bonek, have shown good favorable results. An agreement between Persebaya’s management and Surabaya City Government has been reached, in which the GBT and G10N stadiums can be used in turns.   

This is a phenomenon worth studying from sports event researchers as Surabaya has begun to show symptoms of “fever” and Persebaya was in the brink of falling victim to it. 

The Congenital Syndrome of Mega Sport Events

Martin Mueller, in his study in 2015 titled ‘Mega-Event Syndrome: Why So Much Goes Wrong in Mega-Event Planning and What to Do About It’, argued that mega sport events such as World Cup—as well as the Olympics, often bring a phantom which he highlighted as a mega-event syndrome. 

There are five signs of this congenital syndrome. First, overpromising benefits or promising exaggerated and unrealistic benefits. These sweet promises usually take form in economic improvement for the local community and the regional tourism. Second, regarding cost overrun, sport events of World Cup and Olympics level tend to always cost more than the planned budget.   

Third is event takeover, or a significant change in city planning in order to accommodate the sport events in question. Every now and then this kind of situation does not reflect the social and economic needs of the citizens of the city. 

Next sign is public risk-taking, which is when the hosting city government is eventually willing to bear the financial risks arising from the event if the organizing committee could not take it themselves. More often than not, the city government must scoop the fund from public tax to keep this engine of sport events running.    

The fifth sign is elite capture. It is when the sport events benefit the elite community more than anyone else. This seems to be an irony; a mega sport event that gives much hope for social-economic equality to the surrounding community ends up giving more prosper to the middle-upper class. 

Another sign is the event fix, a situation where the host city government suddenly holds unusual renovation and city cleaning to prepare for the big number of incoming guests to the city. This is an open chance for corruption since the little time the government has to prepare the city makes the practice of ‘cheating’ the bureaucracy inevitable.      

Event fix usually comes along with the symptoms of rule of exception, where the government or the regulator issues new regulations to ease the way of the ‘cheating’, so as to make the bureaucracy seem aligned with the government rules. 

So, which symptoms are shown at the arrangement of U-20 World Cup in Surabaya?

In this article, I will highlight more on one of the syndromes: the event takeover. The first sign of this syndrome is the ‘alienation’ felt by the community living in the sport event location (crowding out). This is because the local people prefer avoiding the crowd of supporters coming to their city, so they choose to stay out of the city to get away from the event’s frenzy. Another reason is eviction in some settlement areas to accommodate the event.    

In Mueller’s point of view, this phenomenon may become one of the examples of how event takeover almost ‘alienates’ Surabaya’s beloved football team from their own soil. 

It has become normal—or maybe considered normal—that a local team gets cast out of their home. The difference is that the local team usually should take several weeks off before the event begins. One of the examples is the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Several local teams should move to a new place since their home is used for training by teams participating in the World Cup. As for the matches, the World Cup usually has designated stadiums. However, the senior World Cup is not like the U-20 World Cup.

In this case, what Persebaya went through was due to the fact that the U-20 World Cup is a secondary World Cup. With only two years of preparation, the hosting country makes use of the existing infrastructure. This is why the Surabaya City Government decided to halt activities in GBT stadium under the premises of grass field renovation, which usually takes six months to finish.  

The City Government’s decision to erase all activities in GBT for a full year has been surprising enough for Persebaya’s management and Bonek, not to mention that Persebaya has to face difficulties in gaining permission for G10N and Gelora Delta Sidoarjo stadiums. This is a ‘perfect fit’.

How Can Persebaya Survive the Symptom?

Persebaya can be considered lucky as the City Government has not been infected by all of the symptoms of this Mueller syndrome. Some possibilities arise as to why Surabaya City Government is still willing to find win-win solution with Persebaya. One of them is the role of Surabaya Mayor, Tri Rismaharini (Bu Risma), a beloved figure who has been nicknamed as ibuk’e arek-arek (mother of Surabaya’s people). Like the other imperfect mothers, Bu Risma made the decision that surprised arek-arek, or the people. But she is also a woman with kind heart. After a proper and delicate approach, she finally agreed to meet the people halfway. 

The role of Bonek in this case has been one of the crucial aspects for Persebaya’s management. Despite some controversies due to the “World Cup for now, Persebaya forever” expression, this grassroots movement managed to encourage the City Government to make room for negotiation with Persebaya. 

Additionally, Bonek’s commitment to scraping off the image of tumultuous supporters also seems to have influence in their grassroots movement. After all, Bonek is one part of the people of Surabaya. Their voice reflects the people’s voice that needs to be heard by Surabaya’s leaders.  


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