Monday, January 30

Ngap Sayut!

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Sarawak United’s Kouassi Francis Kone (centre) attempting to catch the ball during a recent Super League 2022 match against Kedah at Stadium Darul Aman. – Bernama photo

PITY the football players and officials of the Sarawak United Football Club (FC)!

According to reports in The Borneo Post (Aug 26 and 27, 2022), their salary arrears, allowances and claims have been outstanding for four months.

Their plight would be solved ‘after a new allocation from the Sarawak government was approved for the team, which are playing in the Super League’, assured Sarawak United’s president Dato Posa Majais.

That’s not the end of the poor players’ problems. According to the Professional Footballers Association of Malaysia (PFAM): “Last June, the players had to face the situation of receiving a notice to vacate their accommodation because the rent payment was not settled by the club.”

PFAM added that they were ‘taking the issue of players’ salary arrears seriously, and would bring up the matter to the National Resolution Council in the near future’.

Outstanding problem

Four years ago, I bumped into a couple of men from Sarawak in the lobby of a hotel in Johor Baharu. Curious, I asked them how they were enjoying their trip to West Malaysia. They were state soccer players, they proudly claimed.

From this chance encounter, I learned a lot about the expenditure that the soccer club in Kuching had to fork up each time a team played in the peninsula: accommodation, transport, travelling allowances for the players and accompanying officials – it added up, and the sum would get bigger and bigger if the team stayed on for more matches.

I asked them how their club got the funding. For the past three or four years, it had been their hope that ‘some knight in shining armour would gallop to their rescue’. One did turn up, but there was a limit to what he could do; he began to think in terms of a political return on his investment.

Interest waned.

The future of a football club that relies entirely on donations from well-heeled sports fans is not bright. A soccer club must have a steady flow of funds, if possible, obtained from advertisements on radio and television, company sponsorships, and gate collections.

In other words, the club must be managed as if it was a commercial enterprise before anyone with money would invest in it.

Initially, the government must help with funds, but the time would come when spending our tax dollars on football clubs must end. All the sports bodies need funds, and the government must be fair to every sport organisation in the state.

According to the Minister of Youth, Sports and Entrepreneurship Development Dato Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, the issue relating to the salary arrears of the Sarawak United players was even raised during a recent meeting of the State Cabinet. So serious was the problem, as if Sarawak United was a government department running out of money to pay for its staff salaries!

Let’s keep the proportions here. A football club does not render a public service. It entertains the fans, and we may hope that one day it would bring honour and glory to the state. Other than that, it is a sports club for the enjoyment of its supporters – pure and simple.

But there is a problem as far as the football club is concerned. A solution must be found sooner rather than later. I’m sure that the state government of Sarawak would continue its support, but the local soccer enthusiasts must also think in terms of helping Sarawak United in any way they can.

As a supporter of ‘United Sarawak’, I have a few suggestions to make, as a way out of the financial woes:

Commercial venture

  • Convert Sarawak United into a corporate entity or a company. If some rich investor wanted to own it, sell to the highest bidder. The players would be the employees of the company. I know it sounds a bit like slave trade, but a soccer club complete with players and coach can be the subject of sales and purchases. Remember how Thailand’s former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra bought one of the clubs in Britain, and a Russian oligarch bought another club in Europe?
  • The question is: is there is any professional soccer club in Sarawak worth buying?
  • I remember talking to someone from the ministry of sports, 20 years ago, about a football academy. Has it been set up, and is it turning out valuable ‘graduates’ yet?
  • The present club must be professionally managed by persons of integrity and competence. The world is full of soccer clubs, many of which are successfully run. Look for ideas from them and learn a few skills other than high kicks and fast passes!
  • Employ the best coaches and train the locals to be coaches and referees and linesmen.
  • Get all the timber, plantation, real-estate companies involved: offer them tax exemptions as an inducement to make generous, regular donations.
  • Revive the Borneo Cup. Tournaments should be held regularly in rotation in Brunei, Kalimantan, and Sabah. Maybe there’s some money there.
  • Train the players as if they were going to play in the next World Cup.
  • Confine recruitment of players to Sarawakians of all racial backgrounds or political inclinations – their mission is to bring honour and glory to the state and the Federation, even though the club may be owned by somebody else.

And now, kick-off!

* Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.