The moment I got hold of a copy of a contract between the Sports Ministry and football promoter Gifted Group Ltd sometime last year, I knew I had a big story on my lap.
A few days before the Champions Youth Cup tournament was officially launched, I was told the promoter had a media briefing for a selected few. Details were only allowed to be published after the launch.
In keeping with my reputation as a shit-stirrer, I decided to pre-empt things. That same night after the embargo was issued, I placed a call to Jonathan Price (JP), chairman of Gifted Group.
Me: "Hi, Mr Price. I'm a journalist with the Malay Mail. We've come to know that the Government is spending RM17 million to bring your tournament to Kuala Lumpur.
JP: "What time is it? No I would not want to comment or say anything. It's almost midnight."
Me: "Yes, I must apologise but just to inform you, we will be running a story on this. We are questioning the wisdom behind the decision to spend so much to bring unknown youths to this country."
To his credit, Price did not slam down the phone on me. But he sure was dismayed.
In the office, I discussed the issue with sports editor Mustapha Kamaruddin, or simply Moose, and sub-editor Graig Nunis.
Moose: "Alamak, ini projek siapa? Azalina lagi kah?
Me: "Whoever is behind it, it has gotten Azalina's approval. Look at this agreement (while showing it to Moose). It's between the Ministry and Gifted."
Graig: "Let's go to town with it."
Moose: "OK, let's go backpage."
So on March 15, 2007, the backpage of the Malay Mail carried this report, under the headline Money well spent? For the record, the first two papers to question the Ministry on this issue were Berita Harian and the Malay Mail. Credit is due to Ahmad Khawari Isa as well. Then only the others joined the fun.
A MASSIVE RM17 million, that's the conservative estimation for the
Malaysian Government to stage the most expensive football tournament in
our history sometime in August.
It's called the Champions Youth Cup (CYC), an invitational tournament
which is said to serve as a leverage for the national youth teams to hone
their skills in places like Arsenal.
A deal between the Sports Ministry and a London-based sports promotion
company was inked recently to fly in the youth teams of Inter Milan,
Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and Lyon, among others, to the five venues
identified - Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Alor Star and Kuantan - for
the tournament to be held in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2007
and Malaysia's 50th Merdeka celebrations.
A draft of the agreement which required the Sports Ministry to pay the
promoter as much as RM17 million over four instalments, was made
available to Mailsport.
A media briefing held by the company for a selected few was held last
night and representatives of the various media houses (Mailsport were not
invited) were told to adhere to an embargo ahead of the official launch
at a hotel near KLCC tomorrow.
The major shareholder of the company is based at Onslow Gardens,
London, while the minority shareholder's address can be traced to
Guernsey, Channel Islands, a place where Les Miserables writer Victor
Hugo once called home.
It is not known whether the proposed stint at Arsenal, which was
announced by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak last
month, is part of the agreement.
Sports Ministry officials, when contacted, declined to comment.
Sources, however, said it was better not to pre-empt the conference.
"There will be an announcement on the Arsenal issue on Friday," said a
Tomorrow's launch is a highly anticipated one as the National Sports
Council (NSC) director-general Datuk Dr Ramlan Abdul Aziz, who had been
grilled over the Arsenal issue, is expected to disclose details
pertaining to the proposed stint in London.
Sports Minister, Datuk Azalina Othman Said, is expected to grace the
According to the agreement, the tournament will consist of 16 teams
made up of 10 G-14 teams, four teams from South America, a host team and
another guest team.
It is learnt that there will be no cash prizes only a trophy to be
presented to the winners.
The companies are said to be negotiating for a few illustrious names to
travel to Kuala Lumpur to conduct coaching clinics as supporting
programmes ahead of the tournament.
However, following Najib's announcement on the proposed stint, it
emerged no formal discussion had been held between the Ministry and
This was confirmed through an e-mail response from the communications
department of Arsenal to Mailsport.
Upon further checks, Mailsport discovered the only discussion on the
subject was held at Arsenal's state-of-the-art training centre in
Hertfordshire, between a five-man recce team from Kuala Lumpur and the
centre manager, Sean O'Connor, just before the Cabinet Committee on
Sports Development's announcement on the proposed stint on Feb 8.
FA of Malaysia (FAM) general secretary Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad said
the arrangement was mooted because of the centre's proximity with the Tun
Abdul Razak Research Centre in Bricken-donbury, which will be converted
into a high-performance training centre.
Apart from Ibrahim, completing the five-man team were Dr Ramlan, NSC
board member Philip Chan and NSC officials, Mej Muhammad Abdul Rani and
Dr Ramlan was quoted by New Straits Times on Feb 9 as saying the
English Premiership giant had agreed in principle to the project.
An independent website on the Olympic Games 2012, insidethegames. com,
claimed the idea was shrouded in mystery.
It can be accessed at www.insidethegames. com/php/free_newsletters.php,
while a newspaper, Hertfordshire Mercury, in their issue dated Feb 16,
claimed the 13-time English champions had no knowledge of the agreement.
"We have no knowledge of this training camp or these proposals. I can
categorically say that we have not been approached by the Malaysian
Government," an Arsenal spokesman told the paper.
The online report is available at www.hertsessexnews.co.uk/news/