Over the past years, the state of Malaysian football has been
increasingly under scrutiny. With local league attendances dipping at an alarming rate and the quality on the pitch following suit, such fears appear justified.
The popular consensus is that in Malaysia, sports, and football in particular, should be free of politics. On the surface of it, this notion seems reasonable enough. Upon closer inspection however, the
notion appears to not hold water.
First things first, State FAs' financial constraints and their lack of fund-raising knowhow mean that 'grassroots' football have not been cultivated to its full potential. For example, we have yet to find an answer to the UK's Sunday (amateur) League football for children to develop their skills and further make the sport a part of their upbringing.
The impact of such limitations is not hard to figure out. Most immediately apparent is the small pool of young players from which to work on. The lack of a junior league means that schoolchildren play on average only three to five competitive matches in a season – a Dutch Football Association study concluded that as many as 35 matches are
needed for players aged 12-16 to best develop their talents and learn the subtleties of teamwork and match discipline.
The state of Malaysian football is not only under threat from within with weak institutions but also unwittingly from TV sets has made a good outing on a Saturday night in the stands of Shah Alam Stadium replaced by sitting on a stool in a mamak stall watching the EPL. It astounded me when I asked my younger brother recently to come see the national team play in the AFC recently and he replied that he would
rather watch the Merseyside derby. And get this: he is a Chelsea fan.
And herein lies an indication that despite the failings of our local scene, Malaysia is, without doubt, a footballing nation. Malaysian football fans would know the likes of Zbigniew Boniek (of Juve fame)
on top of the universal household names like that boy Cristiano.
So how do we ensure that a footballing nation like ours can go local too, ushering a return to the glory days of the 80s and early 90s when
stands were filled week in week out? As foreshadowed, it would be too easy to blame politics and politicking for the state that local
football is in. As it is, let's briefly examine the relationship between football and politics.
Football and state patriotism is relative, and much of state building hinges on football. It was state patriotism or state-ism, if you like,
that drove the passion in the 80s. It remains the same today, although manifested slightly differently. For example Kedah won 2 triple titles back to back under an UMNO govt and they packed down a crowd of 20,000 every weekend. However, the top footballing states are now governed by opposition, Selangor, Perak and Kedah. It was mad to see PKR flags and
PAS regalia at Kedah away matches till FAM had to ban political paraphenelia to the stadiums.
Thus it seems that politics and football will be difficult to separate. In any case, politics is what moves the sport and to get into those positions a lot of politics becomes necessary. One only has to recall Sepp Blatter usurping Havalange for the post of FIFA President or the Platini UEFA campaign that leagues must give prominence to local players then imports to see this. In our context
then, there needs to be a readiness to allow politics and politicians to be involved in the institutions of the sport, so long as they do so
to the benefit of the shared agenda: the advancement of Malaysian football.
And to be sure, this phenomenon in Malaysian football is not unique.The Glasgow derby has always and will continue to be laced in
sectarian undertones. I recall vividly Gascoigne's Protestant"s Orange
Order's flute taunting the Catholic Celtic fans in 1998.
Further examples include,
1)Red Star Belgrade in the old Yugoslavia who have Serbian
2)Boca Juniors as the "people's Club", based in the slums of Buones Aires; contrasted with River Plate known as the Los Millionares or the rich man's club
3)The history of Lazio v Roma:
Lazio Ultras- Neo Nazi il facisti fans that reside in the Curva Nord (Nothern Curve) and Mussolini's football club – contrasted with Roma,
a communist working class club. Roma has slowly gathered a more affluent social following with more glamorous players, whilst Lazio is
on the outskirts of Rome and are now synonymous as the right wing working class club.
Football is politics.