Thursday, September 17, 2015

No more 'ugly Malaysians'


Level Field

Pay, apologise and repent

Football fans have put the final nail in the coffin of Malaysian football. Their barbaric behaviour saw the 2018 World Cup qualifying Asian zone Group A match against Saudi Arabia abandoned with two minutes left on the clock at the Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday.

Last week, after the national team’s 10-0 drubbing by United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi, everyone pointed the finger at the players, coaches, FAM officials and state FAs. Now, the fans have completed the job of condemning the game in this country. They let off smoke bombs and threw firecrackers and flares onto the pitch on Tuesday. There were also claims that the Saudi fans were attacked.

However, signs that fan frustration was going to boil over were already there because there have been similar incidents at both local and international matches before.

Ultras Malaya (a group of fans claiming to be ardent supporters of the national team) have been identified as the culprits of the latest hooliganism.

So, with clear indications that trouble was brewing, was security tightened for Tuesday’s match?

While the police are trying to find out how the smoke bombs, firecrackers and flares found their way into the stadium despite the fans being screened, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Fifa are not amused by the incident.

Besides awarding the game to Saudi Arabia with a 3-0 score, FA of Malaysia can expect a hefty fine (certainly more than the previous fine of US$10,000 or RM43,000 for crowd trouble during  a friendly match against the Philippines last year and US$35,000 for trouble during a Malaysia-Vietnam AFF Cup match). There is also a strong possibility that Malaysia may have to play a few home international matches in a closed stadium.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has threatened to ban FA of Malaysia if he is not satisfied that enough is being done to resurrect Malaysian football and the national body’s president Tengku Mahkota of Pahang, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, has said he is going to resign after the latest debacle. But clearly, the fans decided to take matters into their own hands by going straight down to the pitch.

However, what they did was wrong and they have to be punished severely.

Eleven fans have been arrested and remanded so far and if they and the rest of their group love Malaysian football like they claim to, they should now start collecting money to help FAM pay the Fifa fine.

They should also, with FAM’s permission, converge at the stadium and buy tickets to enter it with banners of apologies to both the national and Saudi Arabia team. They must repent.

Maybe, the national team and the Saudi Arabia ambassador could be present to accept their apology.

This won’t change the fact that a heavy fine is forthcoming but at least they can show their remorse.

Meanwhile, FAM should take this opportunity to educate Malaysians on how to be sporting fans because hooliganism will only worsen the football woes faced by this country.

True, fans have the right to voice their dissatisfaction over the performance of the national team or FAM, but there is a proper forum for it, off the pitch.

Let us not turn our stadiums into battlegrounds and drive away families with children who come to cheer on our players. Don’t jeopardise their safety.

We don’t need deaths in our stadiums to make us sit up and realise how dangerous the situation is getting. We already had a fan lose his right eye to an exploding firecracker in 2011 while the fans of opponents have been assaulted.

On Tuesday, missiles narrowly missed national interim coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee and his players.

Enough damage has been done to Malaysian football without the very supporters of the game turning it ugly.

Hooliganism is not in our culture, so let us not allow a bunch of irresponsible fans give Malaysia a bad name. We have a tough task as it is to raise the standard of Malaysian football and improve its international ranking.

So, let the real fans stand up and be counted.

TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
local sports.
He can be reached at
Twitter: @tmariadass​​

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