Anwar jumps on football bandwagon, gives FAM RM5 million despite Harimau Malaya’s early exit from Asian Cup

When members of the media were informed last night of a “special announcement” by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, as he was scheduled to be joined by Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh for lunch at a nasi kandar eatery today, it was obvious that the revelation had something to do with giving money to the FA of Malaysia (FAM).

And that was proven right when Anwar said the government had agreed to give the nation’s football body RM5 million “to manage the football team and increase its ability” to compete. Yeoh was seen nodding in agreement.

The antics of Malaysian politicians are so predictable, that one need not invest in a crystal ball to know their next moves. Such so-called feel-good scripts are not new, as former prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had, on Jan 17, 2022, given FAM RM10 million for football development.

The latest pledge by Anwar comes as Harimau Malaya were booted out in the group stage of the ongoing Asian Cup – even before their final group match against South Korea yesterday.

The Malaysian side lost 4-0 to Jordan and 1-0 to Bahrain, but managed to put up a good fight in the second half of the final group match to manage a respectable 3-3 tie – bruising the egos of Son Heung-min and Co.

However, does that warrant such an injection of additional funding and attention? Granted, the national team, under the guidance of Kim Pan-gon, has improved its FIFA rankings in recent times, and qualified for the Asian Cup on merit, after over four decades. No one can take that away from Kim and his team.

Yet, the bias for football is apparent once again, leaving more deserving sports associations – whose athletes have worked hard to qualify for the biggest sporting event on earth – the Olympics – wondering: Where’s the justice?

The fact remains that the nation’s football team is inconsistent, even in the Southeast Asia Games. The last time the football team qualified for the Olympics was in 1980 – which Malaysia eventually boycotted due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

What exactly is the moral of the story here? Are we rewarding football for the team’s “resilience”, seen in one match (against South Korea)? Is it okay now to give out money to those who are booted out early in tournaments? Is the new norm all about spreading positivity by rewarding mediocrity?

For the average man on the street, the RM5 million could be put to better use elsewhere. The rising cost of living, with many bracing for possible price hikes following the increase of the Service Tax – from 6 per cent to 8 per cent –starting March 1, and the weakening ringgit, continue to be a talking point among many.

Criticism against the so-called unity government continues. Some believe the coalition remains fragile, forcing certain party members to bend over backwards on their previous calls, such as having local council elections and sitting alongside Cabinet colleagues whom they ridiculed prior to the 15th General Election.

It would be naive to believe that football fans, having watched the Asian Cup matches on the big screens or in the comfort of their own homes, would forget more crucial bread and butter issues.

Equally disturbing is that taxpayers’ money is being spent on elite sports, with sports associations failing to justify how the money has been, or will be spent. The late Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, commenting on Ismail Sabri’s RM10 million ‘Santa Claus’ allocation, had said that FAM must clarify how it will use the money.

“It can be RM10 million or RM20 million … these are ad hoc contributions. How will the money be used? For promotions (at the grassroots level)? For more tournaments?” Sieh, a former national water polo athlete who later became a long-serving administrator with the Olympic Council of Malaysia asked, as reported by Twentytwo13 in 2022.

The author, on Feb 20, 2023, wrote: “Many seem to ignore the fact that government funding – be it state or federal – is taxpayers’ money. As such, those who dole out these monies are answerable to the people.”

“The august House is the best place for our elected representatives to demand for answers and accountability as to how the monies –belonging to the people – were used.”

It is highly unlikely that that will happen – just like how the Podium Programme Enhancement Committee report, the amount spent on a study trip to Japan by the Road to Gold Committee, and the 2017 SEA Games accounts, have not been made public.

Hypocrisy is when people demand change, yet find themselves agreeing to the same things that were done in the past. This desperate attempt to win the hearts of certain quarters, could turn out to be an own goal.

If reforms are truly on the table, then politicians must stop using sports for political mileage. If Anwar and his government still want to jump on the Asian Cup euphoria, he should have allocated the money to the Education Ministry to strengthen sports in school. That’s a no-brainer.

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