JAKARTA: Less than a week after the women's world cup football final drew record crowds and global TV audiences, clerics in a hardline Islamist Indonesian province said attempts to revive the game in the country were "forbidden" unless men were excluded entirely. "We are not against female soccer at all, however, if the facilities are not ready, female soccer is considered haram (forbidden)," Teungku Faisal Ali, vice-chairman of the Islamic clerical body in Aceh said yesterday.

Aceh, on the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island, is the only province in the world's most populous Muslim nation to officially practice Islamic Sharia law. Considered the 7th Century landing place for Islam on the archipelago, it was granted semi-autonomous status in 2001 after decades of rebellion against the moderate national government.

Indonesian sports authorities are attempting to revive the sport among women in the country by forming a national league, but the Ulema Council in Aceh called on the government to cancel the plan, citing the lack of facilities for female-only matches. The council said it should only be allowed if the province had a special stadium where only women players, match officials and spectators were present, arguing it would otherwise trigger public anger. "We demand the women's league be postponed so the players will not get a negative response from Aceh people," Teungku said.

Already in Aceh, some 30 enthusiastic women players have participated in a selection trial, and a team is due to be picked shortly to represent the province in the national league. Organizers said the players had complied with sharia regulation including wearing long-sleeved shirts and head-covering hijabs. "They dressed properly in Muslim attire and they played soccer normally, they did not violate sharia law," committee head Ishak Rizal said. He said some young female players had trained for two years and even participated in regional competitions where they had won a trophy.

Organizers were still trying to convince the clerics and the public that female soccer does not breach Islamic sharia law, Rizal said. "However, we will accept whatever is decided by the local government. We will comply if they follow the ulemas' recommendation," he said. Aceh is the only region in Indonesia with Islamic law and where public flogging is a common punishment for a range of offences, including selling alcohol, adultery, and gay sex.

Last month the ulema council issued a fatwa against a hugely popular but brutal online game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) over fears it incited real-world violence. Indonesia, with a population of around 270 million people, is football mad and the top professional men's league attracts sell-out crowds of men and women. On Sunday the United States beat the Netherlands 2-0 in France to win their fourth consecutive women's cup final. In the US alone, more people watched the match on TV than watched the 2018 men's world cup final.- AFP