Racism in Bali
Updated: Apr 15
You may have heard recently in the news how I Wayan Koster, the governor of Bali said he wouldn't permit Israeli under 20 men into Bali to compete in the under 20's FIFA world cup, even though President Joko Widodo begged FIFA to allow this event to occur in Indonesia. This one comment by the Governor of Bali, I Wayan Koster cost Indonesia the Under 20 FIFA world cup. He's not sorry he said it either. He will later go on to say that he was the only one brave enough to stand up to Israel. With less than a month before the scheduled U-20 World Cup event this statement was made by I Wayan Koster costing Indonesian billions of tourism dollars. Thats right "Billions" with a 'B'. FIFA immediately took action and moved the event to Peru stating that Indonesian wasn't ready. Read into that statement whatever you like. Think about all the young men that have trained for years so they can showcase their talent at this event in Indonesia alone. The dancers that had trained for the events, the food vendors, the stadiums all through out Indonesian that had prepared for this event.
Think about the young men that were going to be "under 20" this year around the world that have trained most of their lives for this event, that now wont be under 20 next year when the event is held in Peru. This racially motived comment has killed their chance at competing internationally as well. Worst of all, now the world knows that the Governor of Bali is a racist, and the people of the world will wonder if all Balinese, and in fact all Indonesians are racist. Soccer / Football is a game that was played at the famous Christmas Truce in 1914 during the first world war. Late on Christmas Eve 1914, men of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) heard German troops in the trenches opposite them singing carols and patriotic songs and saw lanterns and small fir trees along their trenches. Messages began to be shouted between the trenches.
The following day, British and German soldiers met in no man's land and exchanged gifts, took photographs and some played impromptu games of football. They also buried casualties and repaired trenches and dugouts. After Boxing Day, meetings in no man's land dwindled out. The point is, this game in particular crosses political boundaries. I Wayan Koster obviously wasn't paying attention in history class when this subject was being taught. Yes, racism exists in Bali. There is a slight difference that I would like to attempt to explain. Culturally most of the people in Bali in particular (The only place we can only really comment on) the Balinese in most cases have no idea they're being racist.
We'll attempt to explain this below. We understand this is a hard concept to grasp. You either know you're being racist or you're not being racist right? Well racism isn't that cut and dry. Take this statement: "Wow, look at those Nigerian runners in the olympics, they're so fast, they always win" According to the Oxford Dictionary:
Racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalised. Similar: the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. Technically the above statement is racist, even though it's said in the positive.
Here is a a real life Balinese example that we have happen to us about once a week in Bali. Standing in line at a local Warung (shop) to buy eggs. The man in front, a local Indonesian, paid the equivalent of 10 cents each for two eggs (1,000rp each, 2,000rp in total). We had 10 eggs, so we knew to have 10,000 rupee ready to go (the equivalent of about $1.00) We watched the local Indonesian man pay his 2,000 and then we put our eggs on the counter and handed over 10,000. We were told verbatim "Eh... 20,000 mister" I said "Only 10 eggs Ibu" (Ibu means "Mrs" in Indonesia) Ibu then said "2,000 each mister" I said, "Pak before me Ibu, (Pak means "Mister" in Indonesian) he pay only 1,000 each." Her reply used to make me see instant red... now it makes us laugh and we leave the store without buying anything. Her response "But you are bulé mister, you pay more" the word 'bulé' means 'white person', She was literally telling us that because we're white we must pay more. This is pretty standard here in Bali, and it's taken us quite literally years to find places that don't treat us like we're 'sent by the Gods to pay more'. We've even seen tour guides look away with embarrassment when a tourists gets ripped off by a local vendor. Then poor tour guide can't tell his people to stop ripping off the tourists, they live with these people and understand the vendor is trying to make a living. Doesn't stop them feeling embarrassed, because they know the tourist trusts the guide. The people here (Balinese) have grown up with this racist way of thinking. Let's take a look a popular tourist attractions. Komodo Dragon Island. The Park is a UNESCO world heritage site, and currently charges a fee of IDR 150,000 (US $10.68) for foreign tourists and IDR 5,000 (US $0.36) for domestic tourists on weekdays. This is as todays date. However, less than a year ago the Indonesian government was charging IDR 3.75 million (US $240.00) and was initially branded not as an entrance fee, but as a (mandatory) contribution to the conservation of Komodo and Padar islands as well as the surrounding areas. This money was to come from foreigners. Less than a year before that announcement We went to Komodo Dragon Island ourselves. It was IDR 200,000 for a local and IDR 400,000 for a foreigner. I explained I had KITAS. "No, you are Bulé, you must pay full foreigner price, our government said so, we have exception here." KITAS means I have the right to live and work in Indonesia. With tour operators this means you get charged the local price. We asked "Why?" to the local tour operator. The local tour operator had no answer and started getting physically angry and defensive stating "This is what the government told me to charge". The same applies for getting into Monkey Forest in Ubud. Bulé - white people pay more. Closer to home in Kintamani, Bali where we do our tours. Locals get charged 25,000 to enter Kintamani, a foreigner has to pay double at 50,000rp to enter Kintamani. Then you want to get to Mount Batur inside Kintamani. Having been charged double to get in to Kintamani, a bulé (white person) now has to pay ten times the amount for a government sanctioned conservation fee. 10,000rp for a local, 100,000rp for a foreigner. Racism is ingrained here. Worse, they don't know it's racists, because "if the government is doing it, it must be okay". In the technical sense and how everyone else, at least in the Western culture defines racism, this is racism without a doubt. We add these extra lines to our thoughts in order to stop us being offended all the time, (maybe you could do the same).
Point One: As stated above, the locals are generally uneducated on racism, and simple don't know any better. So, when a certain Bali Governor says "No Israeli's allowed" he doesn't fully grasp he's being a huge racist and branding his entire country. He may very well feel he is doing his job because traditionally Indonesia is on the side of Palestine. What he doesn't get is that sport is meant to cross political boundaries.
Point Two: The racism is not said with hatred. In my opinion as long as the technical racism is not said with hatred, it's not racism.
We came to that conclusion when we looked up the definition of racism. If you were to say as we have said above"Wow, look at those Nigerian runners in the olympics, they are so fast, they always win" Technically you've just marginalised a group of people, it doesn't matter that the sentence would be perceived as positive, it's still a racist comment. We're not defending I Wayan Koster the Governor of Bali. We know better. His comment's stand alone and speak for themselves. However, racism is ingrained in Indonesia, and Indonesians generally know no better. If the governor of Bali is a racists, he's okay with that.
It's just a little ironic and somewhat ambiguous at the same time when I Wayan Koster said less than two weeks later at the time the 2023 World Beach Games wwere announced to be held in Bali in August 2023, when Israeli athletes would be attending. Complete backflip. His actual words were "We talked about how these World Beach Games will run smoothly in line with the constitution.... because there is already an agreement that Bali will be the host" Words chosen very carefully. Seems as though someone might have had a word in I Wayan Koster's ear about racism from two weeks ago. See the words "in line with the constitution" That's his out. Let's see what happens. There's still just under five months to go before the event at the time of writing. He said his last comment about Israeli's with less than a month to go. FIFA acted exactly as any mature organisation needed to act. Then moved swiftly and decisively to protect the reputation of the sport. Thank you FIFA. For protecting the sanctity of the game, and the integrity of sport in general.