If you have attended a Malaysian football league match, chances are you would have sat among or seen people smoking in the stands, with your feet surrounded by “kuaci” strewn all over.
These unpleasant experiences are common occurrences, which make the recent public service announcements by Terengganu FC and Perak FA so timely.
The 2018 Malaysian Cup finalists have launched awareness campaigns just before the start of the new football season, in hopes that supporters will finally start paying attention and play by the rules.
Terengganu have reminded fans that their 25,000-seater Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium is a “zero sampah”, “zero asap rokok” and “zero kuaci” zone.
Perak went one better, emblazoning the words “Quit Smoking” on the top left of their kit, just above their club crest.
On the top right, above their apparel sponsor Umbro, reads “Save Water”.
Both are equally important, but in the football context, “Quit Smoking” rings much louder.
“Our team will be competing at the Asian level this year. The spectators will see the sign and we hope to deliver this message to the world,” Perak FA president Ahmad Faizal Azumu said last month.
The Bos Gaurus will take on Hong Kong side Kitchee FC in an Asian Champions League qualifier on Feb 12.
If they beat them and go on to win another qualifier after that, a place in the prestigious Asian continental tournament beckons and millions will tune in.
Perak, like any club, would not want their image tainted by certain sections of football fans in the country who have never adhered to any of the rules imposed by stadium authorities.
These are loyal fans who turn up for almost every home game, but also ones with little or no awareness at all.
One of the frequent faux pas is lighting up during the match.
These fans are reprimanded not only for smoking, but for doing so without any regard for the families and children seated in the same stand.
Only recently, pictures of some Malaysian fans smoking in the Bukit Jalil Stadium when Malaysia played Vietnam in the AFF Cup final went viral.
Throughout the 90-minute match, an average smoking fan can easily burn between three and five cigarettes – you can imagine the butts that are strewn around when the match is over.
Now, compound this with one of Malaysia’s favourite snacks, “kuaci” – the tiny blackish pumpkin seeds that can be so addictive.
They are also easy to litter about. This is not even taking into consideration the other rubbish which fans leave behind when they exit the stadium.
Lack of enforcement and proper security checks are just some of the woes compounding this mess. In the end, it all boils down to the lack of awareness.
So, like how the federal government’s efforts to ban smoking at all eateries is beginning to pay off, Perak and Terengganu are hoping for the same in stadiums.
It could be perceived as only a small gesture, but it is a significant one that will matter in time to come.
If smoking and littering continue to go hand in hand with Malaysian football matches, we cannot expect our younger generation to be a healthier one.
Let 2019 be the start of clean Malaysian football stadiums in every sense.
Nicolas Anil is a sports journalist who has worked with ESPN FC and FOX Sports Asia.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.