By: Ahmad Syukri bin Khusaini
(Currently pursuing International Masters in ASEAN Studies at Asia-Europe Institute, Universiti Malaya)
Malaysian Football League (MFL) decision to cancel the Malaysia Cup tournament have left football fans across the country heartbroken. The decision was made following the National Security Council (MKN) advice for the tournament to be postponed until the end of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) which ends on Dec 6, 2020. Contractual issues of the players involved was also identified as one of the reasons for the cancellation due to players contracts normally ends on Nov 30. With football being one of the most popular sports in Malaysia, it is understood why the teams involved and football fans have taken the news with great disappointment.
It is understood that prior to making the decision, MHL had submitted an appeal to MKN explaining MFL’s plans to continue the competition following strict SOP including proposing that the remaining matches are played at Sultan Mohamad Ke-IV in Kota Bharu and Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan. Both are located in Kelantan and Pahang which both states are not under CMCO. This proposal is similar to what The Union of Football Associations (UEFA) implemented during the restart of the Champions League in August. Similarly, the remaining stages of competition were the quarter finals up to the finals. In accordance with the SOP the quarterfinals onwards were played as single-match knockout ties at neutral venues in Lisbon, Portugal. Matches are played at two stadiums which are Estádio da Luz and Estádio José Alvalade. Those matches were also played behind closed doors.
Looking at the MFL’s proposal, clearly, they have studied the measures taken of other football associations in similar circumstances. However, the decision made by MKN to advice for the tournament is also understood. During the CMCO cross-state travel are not allowed. Furthermore, the risk of people from a CMCO entering a green zone poses a great threat to the efforts taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 in this country. The state governments of Kelantan and Pahang would also have reservation on accepting this proposal due to the threat posed by it. On top of that, football is listed in the Prohibited Activity list due to the nature of the sport which involves body contact.
It is apparent that there are serious risks involve in resuming the competition, however there are also options to how the competition could resume while adhering to the SOP. In circumstances like what the country is facing right now, it is more rational to resume the competition in a controlled environment similar what have been in placed by the National Sports Council for national athletes. In those situations, athletes, coaches, and officials are to be based in one location which in this case they are placed at the National Sports Complex. They are not allowed to return to their hometown and must also stay in their hostel and can only leave their it for their scheduled training sessions.
Similar arrangement could’ve have been proposed or counter proposed by the interested parties. To have the players tested 2 weeks prior to the restart of the tournament, have them quarantine and then placed them in a secure, sanitized and controlled environment while following SOP’s on social distancing could have been the solution to this problem. Even the tournament could have been tweaked by having more than one match played in one day due to the current situation.
The restart of this competition could have presented Malaysians with an avenue for them to express their feelings positively and given them a glimmer of happiness and excitement during this trying times. Such is why Malaysians are highly disappointed with the decision to cancel the competition. If only more discussion were done, more options were look into and more time was given I believe a solution would have been found which would enable the competition to resume. Nevertheless, a decision has been made and let it be a lesson for the future that every problem has a solution if we just took the time and effort to look for it. For now, let us pray that our country would win the battle against COVID-19 and for us to be back filling the stadium watching the sport we all love sooner rather than later.
** The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of M-Update