No ceasefire in sight as Olympic Council of Malaysia-Sports Commissioner conflict heightens

The Sports Commissioner’s Office (SCO) in Malaysia often sits below the radar of sports observers and players, occasionally ‘popping’ up only when there are issues involving sports bodies.

But that changed five days ago.

The newly-minted Sports Commissioner, Suhardi Alias, recently stirred the hornet’s nest when he fired a shot across the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM’s) bow. OCM responded by launching a retaliatory strike of its own on Nov 17, following Suhardi’s meeting with representatives from two electronic sports bodies on Nov 14.

During that meeting, Suhardi had allegedly, and repeatedly drummed home the message that he had the power to deregister the OCM, and had called one of his predecessors an “idiot” for approving so many sports associations. An audio recording of the meeting has been making its rounds, with OCM sharing the condensed version.

Here’s a brief chronology of the episode:

Nov 14: Suhardi meets representatives from Malaysia Electronic Sports Governance Association (MEGA) and Malaysian Electronic Sport Federation (MESF) at the SCO at 10.30am.

Nov 14: MEGA writes to Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh to record their “disappointment” over the meeting.

Nov 15: MEGA submits their letter, by hand, to Yeoh.

Nov 16: Twentytwo13 reports that MEGA had written to Yeoh. Its representatives were also perplexed as to why Suhardi had, during the meeting, repeatedly stressed that he had the power to deregister OCM. Suhardi, when contacted by Twentytwo13, however, justified his actions by saying that he had “acted in good faith” in calling for the meeting.

Nov 17: OCM, in a statement, takes Suhardi to task for ‘threatening’ to deregister the umbrella body. During OCM’s Deepavali get-together later in the day, its deputy president, Datuk Hamidin Amin, who is also the FA of Malaysia president, hoped that the issue between the two parties would be quickly resolved.

Nov 18: Hamidin issues a statement, saying Suhardi should apologise to OCM. Several other sports leaders also weigh in on the spat. Meanwhile, Suhardi was quoted as saying that he would lodge a police report against those who had leaked the audio recording of the Nov 14 meeting.

Nov 19: Suhardi issues a statement, saying many within the sporting community believe that Hamidin should apologise to FAM members and the Malaysian public for failing to achieve the gold medal target at the SEA Games in May. He adds that OCM is not above the law and is subject to rules and requirements laid out in the Sports Development Act (Act 576), as highlighted in Sections 8 and 9.

And earlier today, OCM issued yet another statement, demanding Yeoh to curb “the extreme belligerence” shown by Suhardi “in continuing to be hostile towards OCM”.

OCM secretary-general, Datuk Nazifuddin Najib, said the council’s leadership described Suhardi’s Nov 19 statement as having gone beyond his job scope, by touching on athletes’ performance, which comes under the purview of the National Sports Associations (NSAs).

“Suhardi’s latest statement clearly indicates, deep down in his heart, that he has the intention to take action against OCM under the Sports Development Act 1997 (Act 576),” said Nazifuddin.

“Not only has he refused to apologise for drawing parallels between the OCM and the Israeli government, but his comments on the achievements and performance of national athletes, fell outside his job scope, which is restricted to the laws pertaining to the registration and deregistration, or suspension of sports bodies registered under the Act.

“Suhardi’s temerity can be seen as having declared war against OCM and our affiliates,” said Nazifuddin.

There are those who say that this entire episode is unnecessary. Malaysia has a bigger goal ahead – a respectable showing at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

However, there are a handful who quietly admire Suhardi’s guts in standing up to the sports associations’ leaders. Suhardi’s statement on the Malaysian football team’s failure to win the gold medal at the SEA Games would have felt like a gut punch to those in Wisma FAM.

While this may seem like a Sunday matinee show with popcorn and all the frills for those on the sidelines, a line must be drawn and a ceasefire must be called.

Yeoh had wanted to create a “harmonious” relationship with the stakeholders, since the first day she stepped into Menara KBS in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative capital. She had quickly reached out to the likes of OCM, FAM, and several others during her early days, perhaps thinking that their immediate buy-ins would help her in her quest to pursue her ambitions and goals for the ministry.

By now however, (if she doesn’t already know it), she would have realised that the “passionate” sports administrators – within and beyond her ministry – would do anything to show who’s boss.

Will Yeoh reprimand a ministry official? Will she tell OCM to stop attacking her official? Or will she give the warring parties a wide berth and let the “big boys” duke it out?