‘Many in Malaysia don’t fully understand, embrace sports law’

There have been a number of elite athletes in Malaysia who are eager to break away from their respective national bodies, to fulfil their ambitions of going “professional”.

Senior lawyer Datuk Seri Dr Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos, however, feels that athletes and national associations in Malaysia have yet to understand the concept of athletes training on their own and have not fully embraced the legal obligations and implications that come with it.

The BA of Malaysia (BAM) deputy president, who is also the national body’s legal committee chairman, was in the thick of things in the recent Lee Zii Jia-Goh Jin Wei-BAM episode that drew plenty of attention worldwide.

Jahaberdeen is also Kuala Lumpur BA (KLBA) president, and the Olympic Council of Malaysia’s (OCM) legal advisory, rules and discipline committee chairman.

“I’m a lawyer by profession and I’m quite familiar with sports law in Malaysia. After all, I’ve been with KLBA for a decade, and serve in OCM,” said Jahaberdeen.

“Based on what I’ve seen, sports bodies in Malaysia have not fully embraced sports laws. More and more players want to go independent, but the way we go about it … we don’t do justice to the sport, the players, and even the sports associations.”

He added when an athlete makes the decision to go “professional”, he or she must be truly professional.

“That means, paying for everything, and not relying on government funding, or monetary assistance from the sports body. That is why we often see governing bodies coming down hard on those who leave the national stable because it (the grooming of players) involves the sponsors’ and taxpayers’ money.”

BAM slapped Lee and Goh with a two-year suspension, pending an appeal, after the duo stated that they had wanted to go independent. Following appeals by the duo, the national body rescinded its decision to ban the players.

Despite the saga, Lee was part of Malaysia’s winning men’s team in the Badminton Asia Team Championship that took place last month, while Petronas, and its subsidiary, Petronas Dagangan Bhd, sealed a multi-million ringgit, three-year sponsorship deal with BAM recently.

Jahaberdeen also provided an outline of his roles in BAM.

“Basically, as BAM deputy president, I act on the instructions of the president. I’ve been the legal committee chairman for the past eight years. Previously, the committee was known as the legal and disciplinary committee, but now, it’s broken into two separate committees.

“The legal committee looks into contracts and the legality of issues, whether it’s the registration of players, when a shuttler is implicated in gambling, or a sponsorship deal.”

Jahaberdeen added that his role in OCM was “more wholesome”.

“In OCM, I look at all the national sports associations (NSAs). There are many legal matters pertaining to sports, and sponsorship is just one of them. At OCM, there are also issues of NSAs and their affiliations with international bodies.”

Jahaberdeen reiterated his call about stakeholders in the local sporting fraternity understanding and appreciating the law.

“It’s still blurry in Malaysia. Sometimes, people get so emotionally attached to the athletes that they forget national interest,” Jahaberdeen said.

“There is a huge gap in the understanding of sports laws in Malaysia. We need to spell out the obligations of the players and the governing bodies.”

He admitted that athletes from NSAs that are “not mainstream” may not be getting a good deal in terms of sponsorships, perks or allowances.

“The laws are there, but they need to be improved. Sports today is an industry. The question is how do you balance the commercialisation of the industry while safeguarding the interests of the non-profit governing body?”