It wasn’t the fairytale ending the Malaysian Football League (MFL) had hoped for.
The 2018 National Football Awards (ABK) ceremony on Monday turned out to be a complete disaster after miniature boots, the size of a newborn’s feet, were given out to golden boot winner Selangor’s Rufino Segovia del Burg, who also picked up a silver boot for scoring the most goals (31) in the Super League and the other silver boot winner Shafiq Shaharudin, the highest scoring local player from Kelantan (six goals).
The awards were ridiculed by MFL chairman Tunku Ismail Ibrahim as the Crown Prince of Johor tweeted: “This is not a golden boot. This is a miniature version of Cinderella’s (glass shoe). Sorry, I can’t get over it. MFL, lucky you guys acted on it. If not, I was about to give you the people’s elbow … Step up!”
MFL chief executive officer Kevin Ramalingam shares all with Twentytwo13 as he reveals what caused the unfortunate incident.
Kevin: There is a committee that oversees such events and projects. It consists of personnel from the various departments within MFL and is headed by a project manager. Our chief operating officer Mohd Shazli Shaik Mohd oversees this at the operational level. The project manager is assigned to do the planning, purchasing for ABK … he is the guy that coordinates between the departments. Any purchasing approval must go through Shazli and me.
Nike has been supplying us the golden and silver boot trophies. They were supposed to supply the trophies this year and this has been documented in all our meetings.
The project manager slackened and did not communicate with Nike early enough for the sports company to provide the trophies. He eventually called Nike several days before ABK and Nike said it was too short a notice to get the trophies ready. The project manager took it upon himself … and without approval … to replace the trophies. He knew he messed up and proceeded to replace the trophies on his own.
He kept saying everything is okay, everything is fine.
On the day of the event (Monday), Sazli inspected the trophies in the afternoon and asked why the trophies for the golden and silver boot winners were not there. The project manager said they would come.
In the past, Nike sent the boots directly to the venue before the event. We never had any problems with Nike on the awards … it was always done perfectly. So Sazli thought Nike would bring the trophies later. After all, the project manager did not indicate there was an issue.
It was only when the awards were brought backstage that those there realised something was not right. Sazli was busy with the operations bit and so was I. We were still not informed about it.
If we had been informed about it at 8pm … that something was wrong … we would have held back the awards. We would have stopped the ‘things’ from going out (Kevin refused to identify the miniature boots as trophies and called them things instead throughout the conversation).
In 2016, the boots were presented in a box and last year on a stand. We told Nike last year itself that we wanted the boots to be on the stand from then on.
Where were you when the first award was given out and what were your first thoughts?
I was at the back of the hall and I knew something was not right. I couldn’t see it (the miniature boot) at all and said to myself ‘What the f***!’
(Kevin contacted the author on Nov 8, 2018 at 9.07am saying he made a mistake by telling the author he was at the back of the hall and saw the miniature boot “on a screen” instead).
So what happened next?
We immediately jumped. Alarm bells rang. We tried to find out what went wrong but the damage was done. Before we made any statements, we wanted to know what went wrong. It took us until the next day before we said anything about it. We had to do some checking and contacted other (organising) team managers to find out what went wrong.
We have over the past three editions made ABK a standalone ceremony to wrap up the season. We know what we are trying to achieve. Sazli agrees and said he too would never have allowed the things to go out.
We contacted Nike and obviously they have no issues getting the boots for us. As soon as we receive them, we will send them out to the winners. The winners have been informed about this.
What did the project manager say?
Kevin: In his resignation letter today (Nov 7), he said he acted independently and did not consult (anyone). He understood it was a poor decision.
When we questioned him earlier, he said he went blank and panicked.
He knew he was supposed to communicate with Nike but instead ordered something based on a picture from a local (trophies) supplier that had supplied us stuff in the past. He used to deal with the supplier.
Will the SOP be changed?
Kevin: After every event, we meet to see how we can improve and look at our SOP … what needs to be done or (if a new SOP needs to be) created. With or without this incident, we would have applied the same approach (a post-mortem of the event). You can have all kinds of SOPs, but when individuals act beyond the SOP … now that’s difficult.
There have been calls for your resignation.
The management is responsible, including me. We are not shirking our responsibilities. We issued a statement soon after we got the facts. We didn’t make any excuses. We told it as it is. We didn’t try to make ourselves look good.
If you are saying the management has to step down because of a trophy, you got to be kidding yourself. It was a bad thing (episode) but let’s take into account what these guys (in the management) have done for the league … the money for the teams. We can’t say because of a trophy the CEO and COO have to quit.
You will hear such calls from those who want the job. It was a bad mistake; we are not trying to play it down. We will rectify it.
Opportunists will continue to make such calls (for resignation). There will be calls today, tomorrow, next year … I’m focused on improving the league. If it’s time for me to go, my boss (MFL chairman) will say so. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never run away from responsibility, good or bad. I’m here for the long haul and to make things better until the chairman says it is time (to leave).
Was it difficult explaining it to Tunku Ismail?
Tunku Ismail is our harshest critic. To him, everything we do must be of a certain standard and that has been the driving (force) that has enabled us to achieve what we have achieved.
It was very difficult (to explain to him) and is still difficult. He doesn’t settle for mediocre.
He must drive the standards … that is something we need.
Why was ABK held on the eve of Deepavali?
We wanted to do it before the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup. It is not a matter of trying to be disrespectful of anyone but sometimes we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. And we have to work with what we have and what we can get.
As it was aired live, we had to look at the available time slot and that was one of the key driving points to holding the event on Deepavali eve.
Given the heat and criticism MFL endured, was it difficult munching on muruku and jelebi on Deepavali?
Yes it was!