July 29, 2011
Malaysian Politics and Soccer: Yobbo culture
by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com (July 28, 2011)
FIFA has made the fight against racism in soccer a major plank in their campaign to promote the game. In recent years, the world soccer governing body has handed down heavy sanctions against clubs and countries that were deemed to have violated their strictures against racism.
Malaysian fans were reported in the British left-wing paper Guardian to have jeered every time Yossi Benayoun touched the ball in the match between Chelsea and Malaysia at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil last week.
After the wide coverage given by cable news networks to Bersih demonstration on July 9, many foreigners must be wondering what’s with Malaysia these days. The wearing of yellow T-shirts is not allowed, peaceful demonstrations are discouraged and their organisers harassed, and now soccer players from Israel who turn out for touring English Premier League clubs are not welcome in Malaysia.
YouTube video clip
Matters on the sports front are more than a little awry where the image of Malaysians is concerned following a clip that was uploaded on the video sharing website YouTube.
It showed an incident that occurred at a training session of the touring Liverpool FC which was held at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil in preparation for the game against a Malaysian selection that was scheduled for July 16.
A local fan of Manchester United, wearing the No 10 jersey of the club’s star player, Wayne Rooney, was surrounded while sitting in a section of the terraces occupied by fans of Liverpool wearing the strip of the Merseyside club.
The MU fan was harangued to “Buka, buka” (“Take off your shirt”) by the yelling Liverpool-supporting mob.
Stadium stewards, in a seeming effort to mollify the Liverpool fans, persuaded the MU fan to take off his strip and put on Liverpool colors. The fan, clearly shaken, acquiesced to taking off his MU jersey but ignored stewards’ suggestion that he go the full distance in MU apostasy. Fortunately, the fan came to no further harm than that to his self-esteem as an MU loyalist.
The video clip of the incident, since being uploaded on July 14, has toted up views in access of 660,000, enough to qualify as an item of major interest on the net.
This depiction of soccer tribalism puts Malaysian fans in a bad light. Coupled with the jeering of Yossi Benayoun, the incidents portray our fans as capable of the uglier forms of sports tribalism and anti-Semitism.
Jew-phobia had not been a marked trait of Malaysians until the Yom Kippur war in October 1973 when college and university students held demonstrations at the United States Information Service and at the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Since then anti-Semitism has been on the rise in Malaysian society, particularly after the introduction of cable news TV in the 1990s, as the uglier effects of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands seized in the 1967 war in the Middle East were beamed round the clock into homes.
But it was only in 1983 that the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism became blurred in the public mind when the government caused a planned stopover in Kuala Lumpur by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of the renowned Zubin Mehta, to be cancelled.
A composition entitled ‘Jewish Rhapsody’ was on the orchestra’s repertoire for its KL performance. The government demanded that the item be dropped; the orchestra refused and local musical esthetes were deprived of their classical fix.
In the broader public’s mind, the distinction between anti-Zionism, which is a political position against an imperialist ideology, and anti-Semitism, which is a racist stance, was blurred.
If the government could not make that distinction from way back in 1983, one cannot expect soccer louts nearly three decades on to appreciate the difference and thereby refrain from jeering Yossi Benayoun in the colours of Chelsea FC.
Leave politics out of sport
Now, that inability to make the distinction will cost the FAM some vis-à-vis FIFA. This would be dismaying to Malaysia’s founding Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was a pioneer of the FAM and the Asian Football Confederation.
In 1974, as president of the AFC, he stood against Arab pressure to expel Israel, a founding member, from AFC, just as he had had earlier stood down pressure from the People’s Republic of China to expel Taiwan, another founding member, as a pre-condition of the communist nation’s entry into the continental body.
In both instances, the Tunku was adamant that sports should be exempt from politics. Otherwise, he held, there would not be much point to the former’s pristine pursuit.
A saddened Tunku, a lover of sport especially football, lost the argument and was forced out of the AFC presidency.
On the evidence of Malaysian football fans’ behaviour in the match against Chelsea, it could be said that the Tunku’s progeny have become none the wiser for the sporting principles he strove to uphold in his lifetime. The Tunku’s present-day legatee, Razaleigh Hamzah, should waste no time in getting the campaign to revive the Tunku’s values on the road.