Saturday, December 10, 2016

Returning the game to the masses

Usually I send my column to Lee Seng Foo, the managing editor of Four-Four-Two Malaysia, way beyond deadline! For the latest issue (December), it was written in early November. It has been overtaken by events, so here goes...

A day after the heart-breaking defeat on penalties to Kedah in the Malaysia Cup final in October, it was revealed that FA of Selangor (FAS) – rocked by internal dispute and allegations of mismanagement – would no longer enjoy State funding.

Unlike previous years, there was no mention of football in Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s budget proposal for his State for the year 2017 at the Selangor State Legislative Assembly. Azmin, to the uninitiated, happens to also be the president of FAS.

This was possibly Azmin’s way of retaliating to what was a real acid test of his leadership in August.

The majority of FAS exco members staged a walk out when Azmin, chairing the meeting, was planning to announce the new head coach to replace Zainal Abidn Hassan and privatisation plans for the Super League next season.

The walk out was designed to undermine Azmin’s position after he had earlier forced the resignation of two of FAS’ senior officials, namely treasurer Datuk S. Sivasundaram and secretary general Rosman Ibrahim, who were perceived as being the stumbling blocks to FAS’ privatisation efforts.

A newbie in football, by now Azmin must have realised the cut-throat world of football management and running the State can be equally demanding.

Selangor is a case in point where calls for reforms in football governance that have been made for many years have fallen on deaf ears.

But largely due to today’s borderless world, the move has gathered momentum in recent times. With a new generation of fans who are enlightened enough on the happenings around the world, their desire to effect changes knows no bounds.

In the present eco-system, though, effecting changes may mean a head-on collision with the powers-that-be.

A cursory glance on the 12 teams in the Super League, three teams are State-based who enjoy the patronage of the chief executive of the State. The two Malaysia Cup finalists – Kedah and Selangor – are helmed by Menteris Besar while Terengganu FA has the Menteri Besar as acting president.

In juggling between political and State official duties, the norm is to leave footballing matters into the trusted hands of a proxy.

While everyone understands football no longer holds amateurish or part-time status, in reality our game remains amateur. Professionals and salaried staff are required to run the game at all levels in every State FA yet how many associations can name a chief executive, a marketing manager, a technical director, a media officer and a medical doctor on their payroll? 

This is the point being made by observers and fans alike. Without fulfilling these criteria, Malaysian football cannot meet the demands of the modern game. It is indeed unfortunate that despite the Super League being launched amidst fanfare in January 2004, there is nothing super about the standard being dished out, both in terms of governance and performance.

When Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, the then deputy president of FAM, launched the Super League in January 2004, he delivered a 15-page speech touching on the future of Malaysian football.

He had envisaged for a Super League team to have a complete set-up, with an academy, a team bus, a pool of administrators and a training facility by 2016.

When Khairy Jamaluddin was elected as the deputy president of FAM-cum-chairman of MSL Sdn Bhd, FAM’s investment arm, he pushed for a commercial agenda involving the private sector, which included stadia as marketing tools, State micro-leagues sponsored by selected corporate giants and a reality TV show.

Clearly the top down approach does not work. We need to change, and change now.

As a football aficionado, I am desperate to see the fruition of the JDT Foundation which offers the fans to co-own the team, much like the way Barcelona and Real Madrid are registered as member-owned non-profit sports organisations.

Not only will it ensure a high level of fan involvement and engagement, the fans will be able to elect the team chief.

There will be no issue of a leader overstaying his welcome. The fans will get to control the fate of the team and maybe pay an average of RM600 to enjoy member privileges and those who aspire to be the president must provide a bank guarantee.

This means the candidates are successful businessmen who do not need football to earn a living nor garner political mileage.

It’s time to return football back to its real owners - the masses.

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