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Has Malaysia's Article 88 had its day?

A little known policy outside of Malaysia - Article 88 - is threatening to hold football back writes John Duerden.

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2013 09:50
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Article 88 allows only Malaysia FA president - HRH Sultan Ahmad Shah - and top officials to speak to media [GALLO/GETTY]

Like any country, Malaysia has plenty of issues when it comes to football: the role of foreign players in the domestic league, whether the love for the English and the European league damages the local game and just how this once-proud football nation can return to the upper echelons of Asia.

But Article 88 is less common. It sounds a little threatening, like something out of a science fiction novel set not too far in the future. In practice too, it can intimidate. A number of people working in Malaysian football were approached for their opinion on the rule for this article yet refused to discuss it on the record for fear of being charged with it.

Traditionally, Article 88 of the statutes of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) stipulated that only the president and the general secretary of the organisation were allowed to talk to the media on football policy in the country.

What this means in practice was that any criticism of the way football was run in the country can be punished. While it may sound futuristic, many think this relic of the past is holding the country back.

In the seventies, the team was respected around Asia. The team appeared at the 1972 Olympic Games and took bronze at the Asian Games in the same year. With a host of stars, the Tigers were capable of defeating anyone in Kuala Lumpur.

These days however, the situation is not quite so healthy. The team has not qualified for the Asian Cup since 1980 and the 2015 edition is looking like a tall order. 

In 2011, the then- national team coach B. Sathianathan was banned for six months after criticising the quality of the Malaysian league. In March, present coach K Rajagopal was also charged with violating the statutes for lamenting the absence of good local strikers in the domestic league.

In total, eight people, coaches and various state FA officials have been punished under the rule over the years.

Abolished?

The rule tends to frustrate people in the game as they feel they can’t speak their mind. Messy and personal slanging  matches would not benefit anyone but free and frank debate about the football scene could be exactly with the Malaysian game needs.

Most would prefer to see it abolished. In a March opinion poll in national newspaper The Daily Star, 90% of the 4,000 respondents demanded the rule be erased from the statute books completely with just six percent supporting amendment.

The FAM has finally decided to amend Article 88... I hope there will be real changes, but we will only know once FAM enlightens us as to what they plan to introduce or amend

Haresh Deol, News editor of The Malay Mail

"Article 88 has been in the rules of FAM which copies the rules of FIFA for a long time now,” Sathianathan told Al Jazeera.

"The only difference is the way rules are enforced freely on certain individuals who seem to criticize FAM or its officials.

"As long as our football does not improve, there will be many parties that will continue to criticize FAM . The interpretation of the law is according to the wisdom of the people who run the association. Removing it or keeping it does not really matter. If the FAM use Article 88, they should use discretion and fairness.”

The association has at least agreed to amend the article though this may not be quite the breakthrough that it sounds.

An August congress held in Kuala Lumpur ruled that other FAM officials could talk to the media about the state of football in the country.

It remains to be seen what effect this has in practice. FAM vice-president Datuk Afandi Hamzah poured cold water on the hopes that a new era of free speech was about to start. He said that FAM’s Executive committee will: 'come up with a list of guidelines on dealing with the media before it is circulated to FAM's affiliates so that no more problems arise regarding Article 88.'

Haresh Deol, the news editor of The Malay Mail is curious as to what will happen.

"The FAM has finally decided to amend Article 88," he told Al Jazeera.

"I hope there will be real changes, but we will only know once FAM enlightens us as to what they plan to introduce or amend.

"It is the right of an individual to express his thoughts but just like the press, one has to ensure it is based on facts. I believe what is holding Malaysian football back is there's just too much talking and not enough working."

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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