Erick Thohir appears to be Indonesia’s favourite go to man to solve any problem, be it politics or sport. The billionaire media and entertainment tycoon, who organised a magnificent Asian Games in August, is seen as the man who can save Indonesia’s scandal-hit football governing body (PSSI).
Days after the chairman Edy Rahmayadi resigned because of a match-fixing controversy, Thohir’s name has been put forward as the best candidate take over at the top.
In fact, calls for Thohir to lead Indonesian football preceded Rahmayadi’s resignation. In September, an online petition was started on change.org calling for the 48-year-old Inter Milan minority shareholder to take charge of the country’s battered football set-up.
Thohir, though, dismissed such speculation saying he had other matters on his mind. He has a much bigger task ahead of him as chief of the campaign to help president Jokowi stay in power in elections in April. He is also head of the Indonesia’s football league, tasked with raising the standard of players and improving professionalism in clubs.
“I think Edy has done his best for the PSSI,” Thohir told local media. “We now need to consolidate and prevent our team from slipping down the Fifa rankings.
“I said if I was told to take care of the league, I would be ready. As for chairman of the PSSI, I have an assignment [with the Jokowi campaign] until April.”
Many in Indonesia see former PSSI president Thohir as the man to bring professionalism and sanity back to football in the nation. His business background and experience with international sport makes him an ideal candidate.
Apart from his dealings with Italian side Inter Milan, he has also had interests in NBA side Philadelphia 76ers, Major League Soccer’s DC United and English football team Oxford United. Joko Driyono will lead the body as an interim chairman.
In December, the PSSI and police announced a crackdown on match-fixing after a top official of the body was caught on tape trying to bribe a coach for US$10,000 to deliberately lose a second division game.
Another 10 suspects were named in the police investigation. The scandal was another blow to Indonesia’s international football reputation. Over the years, there have been complaints about unpaid wages, with two foreign players dying after they were abandoned by their clubs and were unable to afford medical costs.
In 2015, a spat between the government and world governing body resulted in Indonesia being banned from international football for two years. Last September violence between fans of Persib and Persija resulted in one supporter being clubbed to death.
Thohir, who earned praise for organising what was seen as the best Asian Games ever in Jakarta and Palembang, said it was time for Indonesian football to move forward.
“There must be improvement in management and professionalism, along with transparency,” he was quoted as saying. “We should avoid politics interfering in football and try to move forward. Our football is inferior to that of our neighbouring countries.”
The country’s youth and sports minister, Imam Nahrawi, said Rahmayadi’s resignation will not stop authorities from going after match-fixers, saying the police have established a special task force to crack down on criminal gangs who use football to make money illegally.
“PSSI must immediately identify problems within Indonesian football so that they do not drag on and hinder the development of football in the country,” he said.
“I think the key is transparency. There are already a number of PSSI members who have been named suspects in match-fixing. This is a good step forward and we must be stronger. We should not be ashamed to ask other parties to assist us if we are serious about fighting this.”