For sheer manic lunacy, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more head-spinning game of football than the dust bath on a new pitch at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Friday.
The tie between Harimau Malaya and India’s Blue Tigers in the Merdeka tournament sank Malaysian football, and is now known as “The Sand Game”.
In about 20 minutes into the encounter, several areas of the field turned sandy, affecting the movement of players and drawing ridicule from fans.
It was so bad that at times it appeared players had stepped on a landmine. Players were also seen trying to restore patches of dislodged grass.
India’s fans who watched the match live let loose on social media in a state of heightened shock over what they saw, not their team’s 4-2 loss, but the sheer absurdity of playing on an awful field.
Malaysia Stadiums Board (PSM) chairman Hans Isaac, an actor and film producer, would have been shaken by the special effects on the field.
While it was going on, nothing else mattered to the authorities that had to prepare the pitch for two matches, but messed it up in the first match itself.
To the FA of Malaysia (FAM), the universe consisted of one football pitch, never mind if it was a horrible one, two squads and 46,150 spectators.
Basically, it came down to ticket sales. Money over logic.
FAM ignored advice from PSM that the Zeon Zoysia grass pitch, that replaced cow grass, would only be playable in another two months.
They were told the games should not go ahead over concerns to the safety of players, and condition of the newly-laid turf.
It didn’t matter to FAM that it usually takes a year for the grass of a new football pitch to get settled, and that PSM was only eight months into the job.
The rainy weather last week also affected the use of “grow lights” on parts of the pitch that had less exposure to the sun.
It would be interesting to know what the match commissioner had to say because he was present at site inspections together with FAM and PSM officials.
When I asked an FAM official why the national team did not test the pitch, I was told not to push a matter of national interest.
Much confusion and angst could have been avoided if this pitch had been tested in compliance with Fifa practices.
Clearly, FAM has ditched its responsibility to adhere to regulations of international competition.
Here’s another thing: How can FAM overrule PSM, a statutory body under the youth and sports ministry, that we thought has the final say?
Why didn’t youth and sports minister Hannah Yeoh act firmly in the dispute that risked reputational damage to the nation?
Now, it seems a tad excessive that we have to wait for a technical report on Friday’s fiasco from FAM before a decision is made whether the stadium will be used for the final between Malaysia and Tajikistan on Tuesday.
Is FAM going to get a carpeting from the minister or will it be allowed to construct a rethread of last year’s cardboards and dustpans debacle?
In June last year, the National Stadium was waterlogged and thus not playable ahead of the Group E 2023 Asia Cup Qualifiers between Malaysia and Bahrain.
PSM had asked FAM to delay the kick-off by 15 minutes, but they did not want to wait. Suddenly, workers began removing stagnant water with dustpans and cardboards, sparking national teeth-gnashing.
Organising sports events in Malaysia used to be about pragmatism, pride, and expertise, and it amazes me why the current FAM officials enjoy exposing their lack of knowledge and their small-mindedness.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.