Hurdles aplenty as Malaysian football slowly dribbles past Covid-19

The virtual press conference lasted barely an hour – but it was an important one impacting many young footballers in Malaysia.

FA of Malaysia general secretary Stuart Ramalingam addressed the media about the axing of the President’s Cup and Youth Cup from the 2020 calendar, stressing “it wasn’t an easy decision.”

And it’s not been an easy year for the guardians of football worldwide as the Covid-19 pandemic forced lockdowns and crippled the sport. Some nations have resumed their leagues after months of inaction, but it is still unclear in Malaysia if the 2020 M-League season will eventually continue or be scrapped.

What also remains unclear is if the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) will be extended beyond June 9. Contact sports and sporting events remain on the National Security Council’s (NSC) prohibited list of activities.

“Given the current standard operating procedure (SOP), there cannot be any mass gatherings and open field events. The President’s Cup and Youth Cup involve young players in open spaces,” explained Stuart.

“To ensure the SOP is followed 100 per cent is almost impossible. It is the responsibility of the FAM to decide on the status of these competitions.”

He added the uncertainty over the duration of the CMCO and with possible additional conditions forced the decision to cancel the tournaments.

“Some quarters will say we should decided earlier, some will say later, but it’s a decision we have to make.”

The young footballers will now wonder what’s next for them. Non-payment of wages by teams is rather common in the country. In fact, PDRM FA and Melaka United were this year found guilty of not paying their players’ wages.

FAM has made it clear that teams will need to pay 25 per cent of their existing obligation to the President’s Cup and Youth Cup footballers and that the teams have been notified.

It remains to be seen if FAM will be strict with the state teams that will cast their votes at next year’s elections.

Stuart, however, said the national body will come down hard on those who did not pay the young footballers, citing the action against the police team and Melaka.

“This year, for the first time, we deducted points from Police and Melaka. We will not be soft on this issue. It’s an instruction. The President’s Cup and Youth Cup players now have the opportunity to come forward and inform us if their teams have not paid them.

“If a player is paid RM1,000 per month and there’s six months left on his contract, the team owes him RM6,000. Based on our instruction, the team must pay 25 per cent of the RM6,000.”

According to Stuart, conversations between FAM and the Youth and Sports Ministry seem promising and that the national body and the Malaysian Football League (MFL) will now submit fresh proposals to the ministry which will in return be submitted to the NSC for approval.

“We met the (Youth and Sports) minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican (Naina Merican) recently and discussed how our footballers can also train the Road To Tokyo athletes,” said Stuart, referring to national athletes who started training today for the Tokyo Olympics.

“FAM will propose to NSC for a quarantine-based approach for the national teams to train. MFL will submit a proposal for the Super and Premier Leagues to resume.

“We will then wait for NSC’s decision.”

Stuart admitted FAM has not spoken to the national footballers if they would be keen on the quarantine-based training.

“The plan is to house the Under-19 team at the National Sports Council and train there. The council already has a guideline and SOPs in place.

“For the senior national team, we are getting approvals and SOPs in place. Only then will we have conversations with the players. If the players don’t want to join the camp, then it’s for the coach to speak to them. Otherwise, others will join,” he added.