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Malaysian clubs likely to 'enjoy' benefits ahead of next General Election

13:31 WAT 08/02/2017
Selangor lifting their 33rd Malaysia Cup title in 2015
The General Election will likely be held at the end of 2017, and already political funds and influence have started creeping into Malaysian clubs.

BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter

Apart from the Malaysian FA (FAM) congress that is scheduled to take place in March, which will see the election of the association's executive committee members for the 2017-2021 term, Malaysia itself is also slated to hold its general elections (GE) sometime in late 2017, or early 2018.

Despite fans and critics' repeated calls for football associations in the country to free themselves from the influence of politicians and partisan politics, things are not expected to change anytime soon, especially with the recent happenings that have taken place since the start of the 2017 season.

Selangor and PKNS FC

In the off-season, Selangor Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) Datuk Seri Azmin Ali resigned from his post as the Selangor FA (FAS) president, a position traditionally held by the state's Menteri Besar (MB) to ensure the Red Giants receive state funding. The reason given for the decision was the FAS executive committee (exco's) refusal to accept his reform plans for the association, however there's a political shade to the saga.

Azmin Ali. Photo by Azmin Ali Facebook

Politically, the Selangor state government is led by the Hope's Pact (PH) coalition, which is the main opposition at the federal level. Azmin himself is the deputy president at the national level of People's Justice Party (PKR), a member party of PH.

In the meantime, the FAS exco is composed of individuals mostly aligned with the National Front (BN), a coalition that has been leading the country and Selangor ever since Malaysia's independence in 1957, but has been unseated from the Selangor state government since the 2008 GE.

However, upon capturing the state government in 2008, the new Selangor MB at the time, PR's Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim made no attempt to force the FAS exco to vacate their seats. And when Azmin himself took over the MB office and then the FAS president post in 2014, he showed willingness to work together with the exco, continuing to fund the former Malaysian giants with state money. Until late 2016, that is.

The FAS exco refused the shake up, and Azmin chose to leave FAS, taking the state funding along with him. It has been rumoured that the state government is now focusing its sole attention, football-wise, on the other Selangor-based MSL club, PKNS FC, which is owned by the corporate arm of the state corporate, the Selangor State Development Corporation.

To be fair, the Selangor state government had long have some amount of control over PKNS FC, which until recently was an affiliate club of FAS, but after washing its hands off the association, it is now determined to show that the Red Ants will be a model of transparent football management.

Just last Saturday, when PKNS FC thumped Selangor 5-3 at home in their Super League (MSL) match, Azmin wasted no time in taking a potshot at the association he used to lead.

'Congratulations to PKNS FC for scoring five. A capable management that carries itself with integrity and authority will surely produce success', tweeted Azmin following the 5-3 win.

Pulau Pinang

Another side that have been affected by political influence recently is last season's MSL relegation-battlers Pulau Pinang. Just this week, the Pulau Pinang FA (FAP) announced that its exco has agreed to appoint Zairil Khir Johari as its new president, in place of local businessman Dato' Seri Nazir Ariff Mushir Ariff who decided to step down. This decision has irked many of the Panthers' fans, coupled with the side's three-match losing streak this season, as Nazir has been credited with the success of lifting the side out of the third-tier and into the top division, while Zairil has no prior background in football. 

In fact, Zairil is the assistant publicity secretary of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the party that leads the Pulau Pinang state government, as well as a member of parliament for Bukit Bendera, Pulau Pinang. DAP is also a member of the PH federal opposition coalition.

The manner of his appointment has infuriated the fans, as he had initially been appointed only as team manager and as an informal liaison of the state government, the team's main funder, in December last year, and has assured them that he will not interfere with the management of FAP.

Zairil (third from right) with the FAP exco, following his appointment. Photo by FAP Facebook

Much like the Selangor state government, DAP captured the majority of the Pulau Pinang State Legislative Assembly seats from BN in the 2008 GE. However, that's where the similarities ended. Unlike in Selangor, the DAP state government initially showed little interest in the Pulau Pinang football team, and declined to fund the Panthers, leading to the Panthers' slump and finally relegation to the third tier, the FAM League (now FAM Cup) at the conclusion of the 2011 season.

According to our sources, only when the side earned promotion back to the second tier at the end of the 2013 season did the state government showed interest, as well as start funding the team again. State Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was seen attending the 2014 Pulau Pinang kit launch.

The state government also made sure that when Pulau Pinang midfielder Faiz Subri's wonder goal went viral around the world last season and he then subsequently won the 2016 Puskas Award, it would not miss the opportunity to be one of the parties to contribute financial rewards to the Kedah-born player. It is believed that the increased funding by the DAP state government for FAP has come with the stipulation that the association be led by a member of the state's DAP chapter.

Pulau Pinang fans letting their feelings known to Zairil after their first league match, against Selangor.

A post by a fan group, equating FAP to DAP

But things are starting to quickly go south for Zairil and FAP. Their pick for head coach, the successful former Bengaluru FC boss Ashley Westwood has become increasingly unpopular after their three-match losing start to the season, and earlier this week fans staged a protest against Zairil's leadership, according to NST. Fans have threatened to hold further protests, when the Panthers take on Sarawak at home, the Pulau Pinang State Stadium this Saturday in a league match.


There was also the off-season drama involving the Red Warriors. Following the resignation of former Kelantan FA (KAFA) chairman Tan Sri Annuar Musa from the post, the debt-ridden association threatened to withdraw from the MSL due to lack of funding. For a short while, there were talks of a state government takeover of KAFA that left the association waiting with bated breath until the 11th hour of the 2017 squad registration deadline, but the deal ultimately did not materialise.

The opposite would have been surprising, as the Kelantan state government, led by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) for the most part of the past three decades, has never taken any significant interest in the team previously, and was happy to let it be run by Annuar, who is also a BN member of parliament in the state. (PAS is officially an opposition party at the federal level, but in recent years it has been cosying up to the BN coalition, following its split from the alliance with PKR and DAP.)

But just recently, it has been rumoured that a Kota Bharu, Kelantan-based FAM Cup side, MPKB BRI - Ubes FC have come under control of the PAS state government. Details regarding the matter are sketchy at the moment, but the previously quiet side have recently unveiled their new crest and their 2017 kit in a grand launching event, complete with a slick video presentation.

MPKB's team launch for the 2017 season.

Whereas for KAFA, they were then given a reprieve, by none other than Annuar himself, whose firm Al-Hamra agreed to sponsor the team for the 2017 season, and he himself was appointed the association's advisor.

However that is not the end of the story. Last week, it emerged that Annuar, who is also the chairman of the government agency People's Trust Council (MARA) is being investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), due to allegations that he had abused his power as MARA chairman to force it to sponsor Kelantan.

Annuar Musa with Kelantan players after a match in 2016

The more recent examples above involve mainly teams and states controlled by federal opposition parties PAS, DAP and PKR, but BN too is guilty of the same, by virtue of maintaining the status quo. Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Terengganu (and by extension T-Team FC), 2016 Premier League champions Melaka United FC and 2016 Malaysia Cup champions Kedah are among the teams that are directly chaired by the chief minister of the state they are based in and receive state funding, and these state governments are led by BN.

Only politicians are able to see the political benefit of their involvement in football, thus it seems that political control over (and funding of) Malaysian professional teams is not going away anytime soon. Certainly not when the football management people themselves keep putting themselves in the behest of politicians.

So with the next GE expected to take place at the end of this year or early 2018, Malaysian football teams may just 'enjoy' bigger contributions to their respective war chests. However for M-League organiser Football Malaysia LLP, the September 2017 deadline for club privatisation that it has set for MSL teams will likely remain a pipedream.


Fans demand new president

Azmin and Amirudin must show FAS some tough love, and stop funding them

No state funding for Selangor in 2017, source says