THEY say that you shouldn’t mix politics and sports, but in this column today, I have to, and I want to.
The above statement is in regard to Malaysia’s decision not to pull out of the AFF Suzuki Cup in Myanmar.
The point that Malaysia subsequently lost to Myanmar and got kicked out on Saturday is irrelevant. (Although Harimau Malaya’s dismal performances is a topic for another day.)
The purpose of a potential boycott of the tournament was in protest of Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya people in the Arakan state along the Andaman Sea.
While the issue is not exactly new, recent violence has seen Rohingya being killed, their houses burned down and their women raped.
This has caused many of them to seek a way out of the place they call home, with neighbouring Bangladesh the first place they run to.
The Malaysian Cabinet, however, made the decision on Friday to play the next day’s Suzuki Cup fixture against Myanmar.
It certainly wasn’t an easy decision to make.
Malaysia had a lot to lose, as FIFA could have hit the country with sanctions in the event of a boycott.
Sanctions would mean that our club teams wouldn’t be able to compete in Asian tournaments.
Our national football team would also not be allowed to compete in competitions such as the SEA Games and qualifiers for all the other competitions we generally do not qualify for.
Basically, there would have been a lot of impact on the game here.
Why should football be on the losing end, many would ask.
Why mix politics with football?
Why should sport be on the losing end because of politics?
These are questions I have asked myself.
However, when homes are being burnt down and people are being killed, is there any other option.
The situation is so dire in the Rakhine state that action has to be taken. A pullout would have sent a strong message to Myanmar.
The Rohingya crisis is an issue that affects every country in the region, especially Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Lets face it - Malaysia are not going to make a statement on the football field any time soon. But we certainly could have made one off it.
A boycott, however, would have had to go hand-in-hand with other sanctions and the severance of ties with Myanmar.
In the past, South Africa has been boycotted over Apartheid while the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow was boycotted by 67 countries, including Malaysia, over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once famously said that football is more important than matters of life and death. Perhaps if he had seen what’s happening now in Myanmar, he might reconsider what was said.