KL City FC saga shows how politics can ruin the beautiful game

The latest saga involving Kuala Lumpur City FC should be beneath the beautiful game.

It is a power struggle among politicians eager to make an impression and gain political mileage as the nation gears up for the 15th General Election.

The infighting within Umno has somewhat fuelled the need for at least one of its leaders to take over the reins of the club, perhaps to use it as a platform to gain political mileage.

KL City FC footballers and team officials have not received their salaries for the past two months. This, despite the city team winning the Malaysia Cup just four months ago – a feat it last achieved in 1989.

The problem? Kuala Lumpur FA is headed by Khalid Abdul Samad, an Amanah MP. Khalid was elected president in 2019 when he was the Federal Territories minister during Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) brief stint in Putrajaya. His term ends next year.

However, there’s been plenty of political instability since PH crumbled in February 2020. This instability had hurt KLFA, and KL City FC, too.

While Khalid continued as president, he had to deal with Umno leader, Tan Sri Annuar Musa as the then Federal Territories minister. The ministry oversees City Hall – the local council that has been funding the Kuala Lumpur football team for decades – during good times, and bad.

Being a football man himself, Annuar had intentions of taking over, but somehow, the status quo remained.

City Hall continued its obligation in funding some 40 per cent of the team’s overall budget last season, and KL City FC went on to defeat Johor Darul Ta’zim 2-0 in the final of the Malaysia Cup last November.

The lifting of the prestigious trophy was widely celebrated by diehard KL City FC fans, won the club a legion of new supporters, and satisfied those who simply despised the Southern Tigers.

Even the politicians jumped on the bandwagon. Annuar, who was then the Communications and Multimedia minister, went on the field to lift the trophy, while his successor at the Federal Territories Ministry, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim – who was also at the stadium – watched from the stands. He later posted about the apparent snub on social media.

There was even a suggestion to hold a street parade to celebrate the win, but that was cancelled at the eleventh hour, due to Covid-19 concerns.

Basically, everyone jumped on the bandwagon.

Today, Shahidan seems to want a piece of KLFA and KL City FC. That would mean booting Khalid out and taking full control.

Just like Annuar who once led Kelantan FA and was part of the FA of Malaysia (FAM), Shahidan knows that sports can elevate one’s status.

Shahidan once wore several hats in various national and state sports bodies and was involved with Perlis FA and FAM.

He needs to be seen and knows that football will bring him that visibility.

Perlis football is in the doldrums, so Kuala Lumpur is his best bet of making a comeback in the sporting scene. Such a move could also strengthen his position within a fragmented Umno, where everyone thinks they have a shot at being numero uno – convicted or not.

It’s all about popularity and having more clout. A team playing in top flight football could do the trick.

Football remains Malaysia’s most popular sport, despite struggling at the Southeast Asian level, for decades.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob recently allocated FAM RM10 million for its development programme, sidelining other sports bodies that have achieved much more on the international stage. That says a lot.

Many nations in the region have progressed, but football in Malaysia is happy to bask in past glories. Politicians have no qualms about taking the fans for a ride – again and again.

As for the KLFA and KL City FC management and team, it’s back to square one.

If they don’t play ball, then they won’t get funds from City Hall. Sponsors will also shy away if the team is “not friendly” to the current administration.

But, doesn’t KL City FC have surplus sponsorship money to take them through the new season? Wasn’t there any financial planning involved? Did the team sign up or retain its existing players without any black and white commitment from City Hall and the sponsors?

Some argue that if Khalid truly has football in his heart, he should just make way for someone else within the current administration to run the show.

However, doing so would set a bad precedent and promote instability, for this would mean that there would have to be a changing of the guard each time there’s a power shift at the Federal level.

It is understood that efforts are being made to ensure that the players’ and officials’ wages are paid by this week. This, hopefully, will allow the team to move forward.

But that’s not the point.

Here’s a classic tale of a football team that ended its 2021 Super League season by sitting at the sixth spot, and then went on to win the Malaysia Cup.

Instead of being rewarded, they are being penalised.

The only way out is for politicians to be shown the red card and not be involved in sports, so that decisions can be made based on merit and results. Not political affiliations.

Otherwise, all this talk of injecting professionalism in football should be flushed down the drain, once and for all.

This nauseating episode has certainly ruined the beautiful game.