THE Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) has come under fire for throwing the draconian Article 88 of its constitution at Datuk K Rajagopal after the national coach voiced his concern over the lack of local strikers in the M-League.
Rajagopal was said to have done this following the national side’s 4-1 drubbing by Saudi Arabia in a friendly match on March 17.
Although the vast majority of Malaysians do not think Rajagopal’s observation was out of line, the touchy national football governing body views it as criticism of the national league – and FAM disciplinary committee was quick to take out the sledgehammer.
According to Article 88, only FAM president and general secretary are allowed to comment on the performance of the national soccer team in the media.
Soccer fans have been quite vocal in their reaction to the latest “Article 88” firestorm, going as far as to call for FAM president to step down.
Most feel FAM, while quick to criticise and punish, is “too sensitive” when it comes to facing criticisms.
A former high-ranking FAM council member said Rajagopal was just expressing an opinion and he saw no harm in that.
“FAM is sending out the wrong message by not providing the people in the system some latitude. The gag order on its officials should be rescinded,” he said.
Another former FAM council member noted that the first two presidents – Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tan Sri Hamzah Abu Samah – did not turn a deaf ear to criticisms.
He said their ability to deal with and accept differing views was the reason behind the glory years of Malaysian football (under their watch).
“This kind of draconian provision (Article 88) was never imposed under the Tunku and Hamzah. The rule should be rescinded immediately and the Sports Commissioner’s office should intervene,” the former council member suggested.
While believing that a coach “should bring up any grouse through the proper channel,” a top Malaysian National Cycling Federation official, however, agreed “if the coach had proposed something to rectify a problem and the association did nothing about, then it would be fair for the coach speak up.”
Former Sarawak coach Awang Mahyan who did not always see eye to eye with FAM when he was in charge of the Ngap Sayot team, also disagrees with the use of Article 88 as a muzzle.
According to him, the national football parent body should be more open-minded and without mincing his words, he asked: “Why do people get all worked up when someone tells the truth?”
The truth here is, of course, the dearth of local strikers in the country’s top football league and it does not take Alex, Jose or Roberto to back Rajagopal up on that score.
In recent times, Malaysian football has been moving backward mostly and the “shut up” policy of the game’s power-that-be is a damper rather than a catalyst.
The national team’s FIFA ranking has dipped to 164 out of 209 and instead of looking for scapegoats, steps should be taken to rectify the flaws, including the outdated Article 88, that impede the development of the game.
Not surprisingly, the infamous Article 88 has become the subject of contentious public debate.
In a national daily online poll, 91.74 per cent or 3,677 readers said the rule must go. Only 1.5 per cent or 60 readers felt the rule should be maintained while 6.76 per cent or 271 readers said it should be amended.
Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek is rightly concerned by the number of people censured under Article 88 since 2009.
“Of course, a law is a law and nothing much can be done. But my worry is too many people have been red carded under the Article,” he said.
For the record, other high-profile sports personalities punished under Article 88 are former national coach B Sathianathan, FAM deputy president Tan Sri Annuar Musa, Perlis FA president Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim and the latest, Johor FA president Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.
The furore over Article 88 took a new twist when the High Court ruled on Friday that FAM’s 30-month suspension of its deputy president Tan Sri Annuar Musa was “correct and valid.”
Annuar, who allegedly breached Article 88 by making a negative remark on the national footbal team on Feb 12, 2012, said he accepted the court’s decision with an “open mind” but pointed out that the effort to right a wrong, particularly on Article 88, had not ended but only just started.
“Any effort to do so (right the wrong) will be done according to regulations,” he added.
Due to the latest development, it appears Article 88 will still be around for a while and whether or not it will be abolished – in the face of weighty public opinion against it – remains to be seen.