Friday, September 5, 2014

Punish the real culprits

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 05, 2014 - The malay Mail
THE mayhem in Kuching over the weekend is nothing new to Sarawak. In fact, it is nothing new to Malaysian football.

Yes, it is probably the worst incident with five policemen injured, eight police vehicles damaged and the Perak team leaving the Kuching Stadium at 2.30am.

But we had similar burning of buses in Terengganu and police vehicles in Kelantan and crowd violence in almost all stadiums in the country at one time or another.

The question is, was enough done to prevent such incidents?

Whenever they do, everyone starts pointing fingers, the media goes to town and the FA of Malaysia’s disciplinary committee acts busy. Before you know it, the matter is forgotten, until another incident.

Yes, the FA of Malaysia takes action, but whether the punishment is harsh enough to hurt the State FAs responsible for security is something else.

I have personally been there when crowd violence broke out in M-League or Malaysia Cup matches — as a sports journalist in the 1980s and attending disciplinary board meetings as manager of The Malay Mail FC team who competed in the FAM Cup competition and M-League Division 2 in the late 1990s and early 2000.

Kuching is a volatile venue, like Sabah, Kelantan, Terengganu and Perak.

More often than not, violence breaks out not because of inadequate security measures, but mainly because of overzealous fans who get emotional when their teams are losing.

Sometimes, officials of home teams fuel the situation when they over-react and turn to their fans for support. Then we have officials who even go down to the playing field to show their disgust, which only excites the crowd further.

I witnessed crowd violence in Kuching as far back as 1982 when matches were played at the Jubilee ground, which just had a fence around the open fi eld and fans stood around to watch.

Once during a match, Kuala Lumpur, then known as Federal Territory, the crowd stomp down the fence when a few of the city players carried out an injured Sarawak player, who they claimed was wasting time — Sarawak were leading by a goal with few minutes remaining.

The fans charged at the KL players, throwing punches, which saw Fuad Hassan lose two teeth while another lost his gold chain before the police brought the situation under control by throwing a cordon around the players.

Sarawak fans have always volatile and it’s time FAM takes sterner action against fans and States FAs.
The players had to be escorted to police trucks and were sent to their hotel where they were given round-the-clock protection. The next day they were taken from the hotel straight to the airport to board their plane.

As a football writer, I have had my fair share of travelling with teams in their buses after matches with police escort and also fully armed policemen in the bus, not to mention riding in police trucks, being locked in the dressing room for hours after matches in Kuching, Ipoh and Kelantan.

As the Malay Mail manager, I and the players had to remain in the dressing room of the Selayang Stadium in 2002 after we were charged at by the fans after the game.

The proceedings in the disciplinary board meeting left me disgusted.

While we were clearly the victims — we had video recordings which, among other things, showed a 16-year-old player being struck several times on his back with a plastic pipe and me being struck in the face — I and my team leader Datuk Ahirudin Attan were asked to not demand a stern sentence for the culprits who were identified.

We were also asked to accept the imposition of a fine. Of course, we flatly refused.

After deferring the decision and several meetings later, the minimum sentence was dished out.

So, when teams can negotiate their punishment, how can it serve as a deterrence when the very people who are supposed to put things right, make compromises?

One official in the disciplinary board, who was an ex-international, even told me to just concentrate on being a journalist. So much for encouraging people to help football! The point I am driving here is, how many compromises would have been made simply because FAM needs the support of the state FAs.

Are the state FAs being punished according to the gravity of their offences.

At the same time, the police should play a key role in ensuring the safety of visiting teams. While most state FAs have the full cooperation of the police and even have members of the force on their security committees, sometimes the authorities take things for granted and only react when there is a situation.

More often than not, the Federal Reserve Unit personnel remain in their trucks until there is trouble instead of being on guard around the perimeters of the playing field.

The police force or security officers should also be manning the terraces to nip any unruly crowd behaviour in the bud.

It is of utmost importance to make the stadiums a safe place because more children and women are now attending matches.

It is just a small group of irresponsible youth who create problems and smear the good names of the associations. These individuals need to be nabbed and banned from the stadiums. The state FAs alone cannot be punished with hefty fines.

The crowds at the stadiums have been growing. This is a good and should not be derailed by a few irresponsible individuals.

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 handle: @tmariadass

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