Southeast Asia Malaysia

2020 Malaysian Football Season Comes to A Premature Yet Inevitable Close

The 2020 Malaysian football season has officially come to its premature yet inevitable end on Thursday, with the Malaysian government formally rejecting an appeal from the Malaysia Football League (MFL) to let the 2020 Malaysia Cup continue until its conclusion. This follows Johor Darul Ta’zim’s forced withdrawal from the 2020 AFC Champions League following the Southern Tigers’ failure to attain permission from the government to leave Malaysia for Qatar, where the resumption of the tournament will take place.

Stakeholders within Malaysian football were hit with a double whammy on Wednesday and Thursday as the country’ government tightened movement restriction orders within Malaysia and sealed off the country’s borders, following the constant increase of COVID-19 cases in Malaysian soil within recent times. JDT were barred from leaving Malaysia on Wednesday, with the squad scheduled to depart for Qatar to continue their AFC Champions League campaign there. Malaysia’s National Security Council (NSC) denied JDT’s wishes for a dispensation that would allow them to travel to the Gulf state, reiterating that underneath current regulations, group travel outside of Malaysia is strictly forbidden.

JDT were due to depart to Doha this Sunday, however the 7-time Liga Super Malaysia champions have confirmed that they will not be traveling to Qatar due to the government’s decision to bar them from traveling outside Malaysia, stating that despite they’re deeply disappointed at being unable to represent Malaysia in Asia’s premier club competition, they understood the government’s concerns towards the ongoing situation that had forced their hand into making said decision.

“We have been informed by the NSC that we will not be permitted to travel to Doha for the tournament,” said JDT technical director Alistair Edwards in a statement posted on the club’s social media channels on Wednesday, “We respect the decision by the government and understand that such safety measures need to be enforced due to the rise in COVID-19 cases. The well-being of everyone, including the JDT team that would have travelled to Doha is a priority. We pray and hope that the world can overcome the pandemic ahead of the 2021 season.”

With JDT unlikely to resume their 2020 ACL campaign, they will become the third team to withdraw from the competition due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with United Arab Emirates’ Al-Wahda and defending champions Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia having withdrawn themselves from this year’s AFC Champions League after their players were tested positive for COVID-19 on September. Normally withdrawals from AFC-sanctioned competitions would result in harsh punishments for the teams withdrawing, however the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) are working together with the AFC in discussing issues pertaining JDT’s status.

“Hopefully, we can work something out as a withdrawal would impact us in the long run in terms of ranking points and slots for Asian-level competitions,” said FAM secretary general Stuart Ramalingam, as quoted from The New Straits Times, “As for possible sanctions, it is for AFC to answer. However, we are doing our best to converse with relevant authorities on what could and may happen. I hope it would not come to the harshest punishments possible – a US$50,000 fine and a two year ban from all AFC-sanctioned competitions – as JDT has helped Malaysia earn additional ranking points and slots through their achievements in Asian-level competitions.”

With the Malaysian footballing world still reeling from JDT’s inability to resume their ACL campaign, they were then hit by news that the Malaysian government has upheld their suspension of the 2020 Malaysia Cup on Thursday, forcing the MFL to cancel the competition altogether. The cancellation of the 2020 Malaysia Cup means that this will be the first time that there will be no Malaysia Cup champions since 1947, when the competition was suspended due to World War II.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had this to say in regards of the cancellation of the Malaysia Cup, “We studied the MFL’s appeal before deciding to maintain our earlier decision to postpone the competition. The MFL did propose designated states, not under the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) or Enhanced MCO, for the remaining seven matches. However, we just could not accommodate it.”

Ismail Sabri argued that due to the high-intensity and contact nature of football matches and the fact that players were unable to wear masks during games, the risks of COVID-19 infection spreading amongst players, officials, and team staffs are very high. However he did hinted that should things improve in two or three weeks, this year’s Malaysia Cup might get a green light to resume.

The news of this year’s Malaysia Cup being cancelled was understandably met with a collective disappointment from those heavily involved within the country’s football industry.

“It’s tough to accept the fact that this year’s Malaysia Cup has been cancelled. I think the fans are also surprised by this decision,” said Perak FA head coach Mehmet Durakovic, “However we must accept the government’s decision as we’re currently at war with COVID-19.”

“We need to remain positive as the government is working hard in fighting COVID-19,” said Kedah FA head coach Aidil Shahrin Sahak, “I believe relevant agencies have been taking a comprehensive look into the MFL’s appeal before deciding that football matches within this country are not allowed.”

Both Mehmet and Aidil told The New Straits Times that they will focus their attention in building their respective teams for the upcoming 2021 season, with the latter having an AFC Cup campaign to look forward to.

The cancellation of this year’s Malaysia Cup comes as a blessing in disguise for Terengganu FC. With both Malaysian cup competitions cancelled, the second and last ticket to the 2021 AFC Cup was given to the Turtles by virtue of them finishing third in the 2020 Liga Super season. Nafuzi Zain’s Terengganu will join Kedah in next year’s AFC Cup group stages, the second time that Terengganu had taken the Asian stage after their 2012 AFC Cup adventure.

“It is a disappointment that the Malaysia Cup has been cancelled, we did not expect it but we must accept it,” Terengganu captain Lee Tuck spoke to The New Straits Times, “However, as consolation, we get to play in next year’s AFC Cup. It’s a huge thing to play in an Asian-level competition. I hope that my contract will get extended as I’m eager to help Terengganu do well in the AFC Cup.”