Economic irrelevance hindering Malaysian pro football's bid to return sooner

Bleary eyed and squinting towards the bright sun light, the world is slowly stepping outside again, following the quarantine order imposed by many governments all over the world due to the now abating Covid-19 outbreak.

Football too has finally returned, albeit behind closed doors, with the Korean league and the German Bundesliga among the first of the world's top leagues to return, while closer to home, the Vietnamese league was allowed to resume with spectators in the stands. 

Strangely enough, although Malaysia, reportedly one of the best countries in the world in terms of coronavirus response, has been gradually allowing economic and everyday activities to return beginning in May, its government has seemed reluctant to do the same for professional football, and footballing activities in general.

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Although there are indications that the Malaysia Super League and Malaysia Premier League may resume sooner than expected, the latest being the country's ministry of youth and sports' decision earlier this week to allow football training to take place once again, there was a time when no footballing activities whatsoever would be allowed to take place within the country's borders until the year ends.

Understandably, this reluctance has caused dissatisfaction among the footballing fraternity in the country, when economic activities that are seen to be more at risk of spreading the virus have already been allowed to operate again. In the meantime, fans too pointed out that the world's top leagues either have resumed, or will resume in the coming weeks.

While it is irksome, including to us in the sports media, that pro football is not allowed to resume yet in the country, it is not hard to see why it is not forthcoming.

Frankly speaking, unlike other countries' pro league and Malaysia's other economic sectors, Malaysia's top two tiers are probably not seen as an important economic sector in the country.

Unlike the service sector or restaurant industry which employ and serve millions of Malaysians, and provide revenue to the country in the form of taxes, from the economic stand point, Malaysian clubs employ relatively few people and serve a dwindling fanbase. It is easy to see why pro football is nowhere near the top the government's list when it was formulating its economic recovery plans.

Malaysia Super League trophy, 17012019Zulhilmi Zainal

While pro football in the country can perhaps be forgiven for not being a bigger economic contributor to the country, then surely the fact that almost all Malaysian pro clubs are actually a financial drain on Malaysian state governments has made the federal government even less eager to allow the league to be contested again soon.

It's no news that almost all of Malaysia Super League teams rely on state funding in order to compete in a league with among the highest wage structure on the subcontinent, while using other state resources for facilities such as training ground and stadium.

What is even worse is that a number of these clubs have even been embroiled in financial scandals big and small, from failure to settle stadium fees, to outright attempts to scam the revenue board by under-declaring players' wages and withholding social security contributions.

Let us just say that a more cynical administration would have made the pro football hiatus a more permanent one, in order to avoid haemorrhaging money that is now more urgently-needed elsewhere.

Having said that, Malaysian clubs should be thankful that the country's politicians are still unable to wean themselves off the highs of being seen on the podium alongside the winning team, and should expect the league to resume sometime in the next two months.

The return to normalcy post-Covid 19 has called for a new way of thinking and set of daily conducts referred to as 'the new normal', and Malaysian pro football too needs to embrace a new normal, one that calls for more self-sufficiency, if it wants to be taken more seriously.

And it must be stated that although it is desperate to return, the eagerness with which football administrators in Malaysia decided to terminate this year's youth competitions and third tier in the past week or so hinted towards cynicism and Malaysian football's tendency to take the easy way out.

READ - OPINION: Covid-19 crisis should prompt Malaysian league revolution