Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Doing the right thing

SOMEHOW it does seem a little ironic that on the very day the papers splashed stories about the highly promising and long-awaited National Football Development Plan (NFDP) launched by no less than the prime minister last week, there was also this sidebar about yet another status quo likely to come out of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) elections scheduled for next month.

Many say the two elements do not go hand in hand, simply because one places a ballistic target to get Malaysia out of the football doldrums while the other, as many fans throughout the country have been crying out all this while, is said to be the main cause of the decline.

This is debatable of course, with some quarters forever in a state of denial insisting that leaders in the national football governing body are there because they have been democratically elected. Oh yes, argue the detractors, but they only thrive on the in-built democracy in FAM that drives its leadership to stay on and on, year after year. This is compounded by the fact that the top leadership is held by the grace of a royalty.

Although the proponents keep on saying that there is a clear separation between being a sultan and being FAM president who is open to questions and criticisms, the reality is as everyone knows somewhat delicate. Protocol rules the old way and this is where the difficulty comes in.

That is why any hint of criticism is often viewed as uncouth or "biadap" as was darkly discovered recently by Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin no less. And that is probably why Sultan Ahmad Shah is still there after 30 years -- from the time Malaysia was in the Top 100 in world rankings to now at ... actually we have lost count.

The realm of formal decorum seems to have set in quite deeply around everyone, so much so that even the FAM website is stuck with only this to say relating to the present president on the association's history:

"The FAM entered a new era of modernisation and professionalism when His Royal Highness the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah took over.

"His Royal Highness was integral in the growth of football in the new era with the introduction of the semi-pro league in 1989 before the game went fully professional several years later.

"Among the high points in Malaysian football under His Royal Highness was the successful hosting of the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship, as well as the organisation of the Premier League, which has been called the Malaysia League (M-League) since 2004."

Sultan Ahmad Shah is facing a three-cornered challenge for the presidency this time. We put aside for now the personalities taking him on, but he was quoted in news reports on Friday that he would make a decision later this week whether to defend his post, daring those who wished to challenge him to "please do so".

Right. This is democracy at work. But I know how the in-built democracies actually work in sports bodies from the years I was a sports reporter not too long ago. I had observed the politics at play, the survival pact, the bulk voting, the trade-ins and most of all, the power of incumbency in the elections in Selangor and Penang football in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And this culture has perpetuated and carried many bigwigs through in many sports over these years despite continuous setbacks, most notably in football and sepak takraw.

The frustrations often prove too much for many on the sidelines, for instance the outburst by Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said the other day over the FAM's decision to punish the Johor FA and not any individual or individuals involved in an assault case at the Larkin Stadium tunnel during an FA Cup match between Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) and T-Team on Feb 1.
Ahmad Said's rage was and still is understandable and so many points raised by him were pertinent. How a case like that does not implicate an individual who was seen in the act, baffles us. No names, not even as suspects were mentioned, let alone charged.
Losing the plot is one thing, but FAM has got to get real.

The NFDP is timely to get Malaysian football back on its footing as it goes beyond the FAM development programmes with its target of expanding the grassroots base of players under training to over 50,000 in six years.

There are many other core areas in the plan but the most important thing is to change mindsets and create thinking players on the pitch -- those who know how to create space, rather than the kick-and-run method we always see.

While we are at it, mindset change should also include the aptitude in players to stay hungry all the time instead of turning into prima donnas and becoming so-called superstars and acting like celebrities after one tournament.

And most of all, it should include mental strength, for instance, in holding out for a great future playing in foreign leagues whether in Portugal, Japan or elsewhere without crying out to return home after three weeks without maggi mee and teh tarik.

Yes, at some point we have to be real for the sake of Malaysian football.
Just do the right thing.

These eager pupils at the Mokhtar Dahari National Football Academy in Gambang are part of the National Football Development Plan to expand the grassroots base of players under training to more than 50,000 in six years. Pic by Luqman Hakim Zubir

Read more: Doing the right thing - Columnist - New Straits Times

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