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Christian, Muslim and Hindu soccer players join in political goal celebration

Bali United’s Hindu defender Ngurah Nanak, Christian forward Yabes Roni and Muslim striker Miftahul Hamdi made an iconic statement of unity with their goal celebration.

A unique goal celebration has caught the attention of soccer fans around the world, after three Indonesian players combined for a powerful and symbolic statement.

Bali United’s Hindu defender Ngurah Nanak, Christian forward Yabes Roni and Muslim striker Miftahul Hamdi celebrated their team’s second goal in a 3-0 win over Borneo FC by forming a row on the touchline and each demonstrating their religion’s prayer position.

A photo of the celebration taken by Miftahuddin Halim was posted to the team’s Facebook page with the caption, “Because different beliefs will not prevent us from achieving the same goals.”

Indonesia finds itself in a tense political moment, with the rise of an Islamist movement that has challenged the country’s more moderate and secular government.

“Even though we all come from different religions and ethnicities, we’re all one,” Yabes told Indonesia’s Kompas.com (translation via Vice). “We have to protect the country’s harmony and stay united.”

Bali photographer Halim shared the sentiments of his subjects. “I’m glad that photo serves as an example for people,” he told local media. “Football can unite the country.”

It’s not the first time athletes of faith have prayed during competition, but they haven’t always passed without controversy .

In 2014, Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah was penalized for a post-touchdown prayer after intercepting a Tom Brady pass. The call was considered contentious because the league’s rules didn’t appear to apply equally to other forms of religious expression.

After much feet dragging, the NFL relaxed some of its rules around celebrations last month, with the intention of allowing players to have a little more fun on the field.

FIFA, soccer’s governing body, has its own rules that attempt to separate sport and politics on the field by limiting celebrations to gestures.

“Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer’s logo,” FIFA’s rule book states. Neither FIFA nor the Indonesia Football Association have commented on the celebration in Bali.

For now, football is united.

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