Islamist extremists have won no fans among football-mad Indonesians after suicide attacks in Jakarta forced Premier League champions Manchester United to cancel a highly anticipated friendly in Jakarta.
The Red Devils’ pre-season Asian tour was thrown into uncertainty Friday when they dropped the Indonesian leg after suicide bombings at two hotels -- including the Ritz-Carlton where they were to stay -- left at least eight dead.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s star-studded team of multi-millionaires was scheduled to play an Indonesian All-Star squad at the sold-out 100,000-capacity Bung Karno Stadium on Monday.
Millions of football fans were furious that the biggest international sporting event for years in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country had been cancelled -- and it was clear whom they blamed.
“If I were a young man and had a chance to somehow meet those extremists, I would probably hit them,” hardcore fan Wahyu Ponco Waskito told AFP.
Sports presenter and Manchester United fanatic Ricky Johannes, who also had tickets to Monday’s game, said: “I’m heartbroken, disappointed, saddened, furious and angry.”
“This will make other international football teams reluctant to visit Indonesia.”
Promoters said the cancellation was a massive blow to their efforts to attract more international events to the country.
US pop star Rihanna cancelled a show in Jakarta late last year after Islamists threatened violent retaliation for the executions of three men convicted over the 2002 terror attacks in Bali which killed 202 people.
“When a crazy group does something like this, it’s a slap in the face to the ordinary people,” said Geoffrey Gold, an Australian who runs a sports development consultancy in Jakarta.
“Manchester United coming here was a feather in the cap for Indonesia. It said that the place was good enough to include on the agenda... Indonesia was in the main league.
“The very fact that the president mentioned the cancellation in his official press statement showed how significant it was and how sad the public is about the cancellation.”
Indonesian presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal was quoted by The Jakarta Post as urging United to press ahead with the visit.
“Of all the great feats that have been, and will be, achieved by Manchester United as a great football team with a heart, proceeding with the match in Jakarta as a measure of solidarity will be long remembered by history,” he said.
But the club said it had no choice but to protect its players’ safety.
Jakarta-based entrepreneur Rudy Rusli, 36, sympathised with the team and said it was lucky for Indonesia they were not at the hotel when it was bombed.
“It’s a relief that the attacks occurred before the team arrived. If the blasts had affected the team, with some of the best players in the world, then the implications would have been even more horrendous,” he said.
Gold, who had friends injured in the bombings, said everyone working to put Indonesia on the map of world sport and entertainment was reeling from the attacks.
Almost 90 Australian tourists were killed in the Bali bombings seven years ago, but about 500 Australian expatriates turned out at the national stadium earlier this year to watch an Indonesia-Australia friendly.
Gold said that was a sign that foreigners were beginning to overcome their fears of terror attacks in Indonesia, which had not seen a significant strike since 2005 after multiple bombings in the first half of the decade.
“There have been increasing numbers of youth events, with exchanges between football and basketball sides from schools and junior teams, and I’m worried that will be affected now.”