Nurdin Halid herded the national football team to Aburizal Bakrie’s house. A fight for the soccer grandstand with Yudhoyono.
THE faces of the four people were pictured lined up on the balcony of the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur. In the middle was Golkar Party Chairman Aburizal Bakrie. Then there was PSSI CEO, Nurdin Halid and National Mandate Party (PAN) Chairman Hatta Rajasa. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) meanwhile was pictured at far left and right. All of the faces in the huge posters were smiling.
The political posters had been displayed on the balcony fence since late afternoon, prior to the start of the final match of the Southeast Asia soccer championship, the Asian Football Federation (AFF) Cup, between Malaysia and Indonesia. The benches were still empty. On that Sunday evening two weeks ago, the home team was ahead by 3-0. Spread along the edge of the field also were T-shirts with the Garuda bird symbol and the words ‘Bakrie’.
The Democrat Party in Malaysia also gave away hundreds of free tickets to Indonesian supporters. The party established by Yudhoyono also handed out 400 national team T-shirts without players’ names. “They’re our constituents, so what’s wrong with it?” said the Democrat Party’s secretary in Malaysia, Lukmanul Hakim.
Labor Minister Muhaimin Iskandar also handed out 3,000 T-shirts to Indonesian migrant workers and the Indonesian Society Association (PMI) in Malaysia. On these were written ‘Menakertrans’—Minister of Labor and Transmigration. “There was no name or party symbol,” said the head of the PMI in Malaysia, Makhroji Maghfur. Makhroji is a former head of the National Awakening Party in Malaysia.
The Golkar chairman for the Malaysian territories, Pungky Harry Sinatria, said that they did not put up any pictures of Aburizal. According to Pungky, the person who wanted to garner popularity in Bukit Jalil was the advertiser. “Who then is the person trying to curry favor and to secure their position so they’re not forced out of PSSI?” he said. He meant of course Nurdin Halid. Although he is a fellow senior Golkar member, Pungky is upset with Nurdin’s behavior.
In Indonesia, five days before the final, Nurdin Halid brought the national soccer team to Aburizal’s luxurious home in Menteng, Central Jakarta. Instead of focusing the players on training in preparation for the final battle, he took Firman Utina and his teammates off to the business tycoon’s house, a day before the national team vanquished the Philippines 10 at the Bung Karno Sports Stadium in Jakarta. “The chairman had a job [for them],” said a source in PSSI.
At the plush home surrounded by a lush bougainvillea fence complete with a garden and swimming pool, the national players were served breakfast. Present at the event was Nirwan Bakrie, Aburizal’s younger brother who is also Deputy Chairman of PSSI. Nirwan controls the reins of the businesses owned by the Bakrie Group. Ardi Bakrie, Aburizal’s son, also greeted them. After breakfast, they assembled in the garden behind the house. National team manager Andi Darussalam introduced the players one by one to the host’s family.
Showing off his wealth, Aburizal announced that he would give a Rp2.5 billion bonus to the national team. He also promised an additional Rp3 billion if they won—which of course fell through because Indonesia lost 2-4. Bakrie also bequeathed 25 hectares of land in Jonggol, West Java, to be used as a PSSI training center. During the ‘political breakfast,’ Nurdin flattered the Bakrie family, which he said “has made big sacrifices for the national team”.
The visit to Aburizal’s house was initially scheduled to take place after the final match. On the grounds that Aburizal wanted to go overseas, the meeting was brought forward. A source in soccer management circles said that the breakfast was part of the ongoing rivalry between Aburizal and Yudhoyono. They both wanted to get a free ride on the national team’s popularity that has skyrocketed since its brilliant appearances in the group stage through to the semifinals.
A week before the breakfast, Yudhoyono visited the national team during training at Senayan. At the time, the national team was preparing for the first semifinal match against the Philippines. The following day, when he gave a pubic lecture at the Surabaya November 10 Institute of Technology, Yudhoyono also spoke about soccer. Yudhoyono attended both semifinal matches between Indonesia and the Philippines. Aburizal likewise, was always sitting alongside him. “This is a fight for the soccer grandstand,” said one PSSI board member.
Nurdin Halid is a Golkar politician. He was a member of the House of Representatives (DPR) from the party for the 2004-2009 term. In 2004, Nurdin was arrested for allegedly smuggling 73,000 tons of illegally imported sugar into the country. A year later, he was jailed for two and a half years after being found guilty of importing illegal rice from Vietnam. After completing a sentence of only one year, he was again jailed in 2007. This time he was accused of misappropriating cooking oil funds belonging to the Indonesian Distribution Cooperative.
Even so, said a Tempo source, the Bakrie family trusts Nurdin in matters of soccer. He once helped Pelita Jaya, a club owned by the Bakrie family, which almost collapsed in 1997. At the time, Nurdin was brought in as Pelita Jaya’s manager, and it was then changed to the Pelita Mastrans. Nurdin injected capital from public transport circles.
Another source said that when he was still in jail, on several occasions Nirwan Bakrie invited Nurdin Halid to discuss soccer. This is the reason why, during the visit to Aburizal’s house, Nurdin also made such a big thing about Nirwan’s contribution to PSSI.
Nurdin’s loyalty to Aburizal was also apparent in the price of third-class tickets for the final at the Bung Karno Sports Stadium. PSSI set a price that was higher than that for the semifinals. Yudhoyono criticized this. Initially Nurdin did nothing, but reduced the ticket prices after Aburizal instructed him to do so. “On the instructions of the secretary-general I have reduced the price,” he said. Within the Golkar Party structure, Nurdin is Chairman of the Central Leadership Board.
Andi Darussalam, a person close to Aburizal and manager of the national team, said that he knows nothing about the political agenda outside the soccer field. “I only know that in the morning we were scheduled to go to Bakrie’s house,” said Andi. According to Andi, the Bakrie family has a deep respect for friendship. “The strength of the friendship has made the Bakrie family and Nurdin close,” said Andi.
Bakrie family spokesperson Lalu Mara Satria Wangsa rejected accusations that there was a politicization of the national soccer team. “We have supported the national team since it was still in the doldrums, not all of a sudden now,” he said. Nurdin Halid also said that soccer should have no relations with politics. “It is precisely the people accusing me of playing politics that have political motives,” he said.
On the question of the visit to Aburizal’s house, Democrat Party Treasurer Achsanul Qosasi, who is also treasurer of PSSI, said it had been scheduled to take place after the finals. The meeting was brought forward, according to Achsanul, because Aburizal had to visit the United States. Achsanul stated that this was not a fight over the soccer grandstand between Yudhoyono and Aburizal. “Pak SBY simply wanted to bolster the national team’s spirit,” he said.
Sunudyantoro, Ezther Lastania (Jakarta), Masrur Dimyathi (Kuala Lumpur)