BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
As expected, Indonesian fans were not in a forgiving mood towards Malaysia U-16 forward Amirul Ashrafiq Hanifah.
Days after he apologised for wrongfully displaying the Polish flag instead of the Indonesian flag in a social media post ahead of the 2018 AFF U-16 Championship that is currently held in Gresik and Sidoarjo, Indonesia, the host country fans still made their fury known.
Throughout the Young Tigers' group opener against Thailand U-16 that was held at the Gelora Joko Samudro Stadium on Monday, Indonesian fans who were present at the stadium could be heard chanting 'Amirul itu anjing' (Amirul is a dog) and 'Malaysia itu anjing' (Malaysia are dogs). Malaysia lost 2-1 in the match.
The incident is the second incident within a month to involve the two countries. Earlier in July, Malaysia U-19 players and coaching staff were pelted by missiles following their semi-final shooutout win over their Indonesia U-19, in the 2018 AFF U-19 Youth Championship that was also held in Indonesia.
Despite the treatment received by the Malaysian teams, response from the Malaysian FA (FAM) had been relatively muted.
However, a statement by one man seemingly sparked Malaysian football administrators into criticising the home fans' conduct and taking action against the hosts.
Late Monday evening, Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) owner and former FAM president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, also known as TMJ by fans, urged FAM to officially protest the incident, while slamming the association and youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman's initial reluctance to take action against the hosts.
"I urge and will ensure that the President of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) writes an official protest to the AFF and the AFC regarding the incident and withdraw themselves from the competition if necessary. Nonetheless, action needs to be taken.
"I believe that it has to be done immediately. I understand as a Minister of Youth and Sports, you have to be diplomatic. But This is not a question of resolving the situation diplomatically. The name of our country has been tarnished and degraded. Which is more important? To excel or to be popular? As a leader, we shouldn’t only be too engrossed in pleasing everyone. Sometimes, we have to make tough or unfavourable decisions for the betterment of the country. ‘Leadership is about action. Not position. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet.’" the Johor royalty stated on his club's social media account.
The following morning, FAM secretary-general Stuart Ramalingam issued a statement, saying that the association will take the matter to the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) and Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
"I agree with the Crown Prince of Johor, HRH Major General Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim, former FAM President when he stated in a post on the JOHOR Southern Tigers page late last night that the actions of the Indonesian fans were extremely overboard as it was a big insult to the name of Malaysia.
"Hence the action of sending in the letter of protest to AFF and AFC was swiftly undertaken so that both parties concerned can take the necessary actions in making sure the same thing will not happen during the U-16 squad’s next Group B match against Brunei in the same stadium this Friday.
"In making sure that the level of safety for the U-16 squad is assured, FAM has decided to send FAM Exco, ACP Md Dali Wahid who is a high ranking official in the PDRM, to Surabaya tomorrow to evaluate the safety measures implemented by the host nation and organisers.
"If it is found that the host nation and organisers are taking this issue lightly, FAM will not hesitate to take more drastic actions in the future," wrote the newly-appointed official.
Malaysia U-16 have three more group matches in the tournament, but they will return to Indonesia later this year for the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship. Malaysia U-23 too will be there in August for the men's football event of the 2018 Asian Games.
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