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How Bali United Is Promoting Religious Harmony on the Pitch

A goal celebration is reminding Indonesians of our shared commitment to diversity.

Arzia Tivany Wargadiredja

Arzia Tivany Wargadiredja

Football is a double-edged sword. The world's most-popular sport can unite people of all social classes, but also amplify dangerous sectarian divisions. In the city of Glasgow, the Celtics and the Rangers split the city along religious (Catholic vs Protestant), political, and social (Brits vs. Irishmen vs. Scots) lines.

In the world of Indonesian football, we too often hear about rivalries between supporters that end up in brawls or even death. Thankfully, some news about football's ability to pull us together as a nation is coming out of the island of Bali.

Tri Datu, the club's nickname, posted a photo showing three players, Ngurah Nanak (a Hindu), Yabes Roni (a Protestant), and Miftahul Hamdi (a Muslim), celebrating a goal together in-line with their respective faiths. Apparently this sort of celebration has become a trend at Bali United—a club that is taking that "united" part seriously.

"I always show my gratitude after scoring a goal," Yabes told local media. "If you ask God to give you a goal, then He shall make it happen. Even though we all come from different religions and ethnicities, we're all one. We have to protect the country's harmony and stay united."

Radar Bali photographer Miftahuddin Halim snapped the photo, which quickly went viral online.

"I'm glad that photo serves as an example for people," he told local media. "Football can united the country."

The image was well-received online. Indonesia is currently going through a rough patch, where the recent events surround the Jakarta election, and the jailing of once-popular governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama on blasphemy charges, have left some questioning whether the country has gotten more intolerant in recent years.

"Subhanalloh, looking at this picture brings peace to my mind," Mohammad Komaruddin wrote on Facebook. "Don't let Bali turn into Jakarta. I'm not from Bali, but I take my hat off for the harmony among the people there. Go Bali!"

Footballers have long used goal celebrations as a way to showcase their own personal views or identities. Gareth Bale has trademarked his iconic heart-shaped hand gesture and Italian forward Mario Balotelli pulls up his jersey to show off an undershirt emblazoned with the phrase "Why always me?"

It's all about the message. And in Bali, the message looks like this: