FAM and its president Hamidin Mohd Amin are in a crisis that requires an urgent solution

Damaging allegations in anonymous poison-pen letter need to be sensitively addressed soon, before past good work is being undone

Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin.
Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin. (PHOTO: Allsport Co./Getty Images)

IN TERMS of optics, Malaysian football leadership is in crisis. The poison pen letter that went viral ahead of the Football Association of Malaysia’s (FAM) 60th Congress on 1 April has shaken the football governing body to its core, and the mood to celebrate Raya among the FAM top brass was understandably subdued.

Prior to this, things appeared a bed of roses for FAM president, Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin, throughout his six years at the helm, save for a few hiccups. His happy tenure reached a climax when the national team guided by South Korean Kim Pan-gon - who was handpicked by Hamidin to transform Harimau Malaya’s fortunes in early 2022 - qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2023 finals.

But in the final days of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are encouraged to refrain from worldly affairs to focus on worshipping God, FAM was rocked by a series of unsavoury events.

Three days before the Congress, the FAM media team was scrambling to control the damage after Malaysian media out of the blue reported Kim had tendered his resignation. Within hours a rebuttal was issued, with the South Korean coach vehemently denying he wrote a letter to that effect.

Less than 48 hours later, with FAM still reeling from the Kim controversy, another controversy erupted in the form of a poison-pen letter sent anonymously to all of FAM stakeholders, accusing the management of abuse of power and financial malpractices, thus casting aspersions over the reputations of the president as well as the general secretary.

The letter highlighted issues relating to alleged weaknesses in FAM’s administration, elements of favouritism, allegations of theft and missing Harimau Malaya attires, the national team’s lack of preparation and the monthly salary of the president, which allegedly touched almost six figures. The writer also claimed as many as 12 of the FAM staff had quit the national body, allegedly due to internal issues.

Two days later, the media reported that five M-League clubs had been slapped with player registration bans by FIFA, with one of the teams, Kedah, slated to compete in the new Malaysia Super League season. The other four other teams are Kelantan FC, Melaka United, Sarawak United and Perlis FA.

Governing body on even keel amid Hamidin's tenure

The situation that FAM and Hamidin found themselves in is unprecedented. For the past six years, a combination of solid policies, well-oiled public relations machinery and a secretariat focused on fixing the fundamentals to increase FAM’s commercial appeal had kept the governing body on an even keel.

The issue of naturalised players over homegrown talent and the AFF Cup failure in December 2021 were mere storms in the tea cup for FAM and the media savvy Hamidin.

In the post-Congress press conference, Hamidin denounced the poison-pen letter as defamatory and deemed it a personal attack on his most trusted confidante, general secretary Datuk Noor Azman Rahman. Hamidin added FAM would not hesitate to lodge a police report to find the culprit.

However, at the time of writing, no police report has been lodged. In the interim, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has begun investigation while FAM deputy president, Datuk Wira Mohd Yusoff Mahadi, disclosed to the media that an internal inquiry would be conducted.

New Straits Times quoted academician Mohd Sadek Mustaffa as urging the Ministry of Youth and Sports through the Sports Commissioner’s Office to look into the issue of remuneration for leaders of national sports associations. Certain sections of the media also zoomed in on Hamidin’s salary, and there were calls for him to resign from the cushy post.

First commoner to take the FAM hot seat

Hamidin broke a long tradition when he was installed as the FAM president on 14 July 2018. He was the first commoner to ascend to the hot seat - for 67 years since 1951, FAM had been spearheaded by two prime ministers, one cabinet minister, a powerful Sultan and two crown princes.

A series of negotiations were held involving Hamidin and his predecessor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, which led to the conclusion that the time was ripe for a full-time salaried president to run the sport in Malaysia. Unlike the amateur days, modern football requires full-time commitment from the president, who sets the tone and direction of the governing body.

Hamidin’s hands-on approach corresponds with his role, which was endorsed unanimously by the FAM executive committee immediately after its 2018 Congress. In the updated FAM Statute 2023, the FAM president is primarily responsible for:

  • Implementing the decisions passed by the Congress and the executive committee through the General Secretariat;

  • Ensuring the effective functioning of FAM in order to achieve the objectives described in the statute;

  • Supervising the work of the General Secretariat;

  • Establishing good relations between FAM and its Members, FIFA, AFC, AFF, political bodies and other organisations.

Upon being installed as the president, Hamidin hit the ground running, rolling out policies defined by the F:30 Roadmap, drafted to promote growth at all tiers of football in the country. Within a year, the Affiliates Capacity Enhancement (ACE) project, the grassroots charter called Suparimau, the Malaysian Premier Futsal League and the Malaysia Football DNA were introduced to strengthen the eco-system.

Central to the plan was the influx of professionally-minded staff with the right set of skill, led by commercial expert and former FIFA consultant, Datuk Stuart Ramalingam.

FAM was prepared to execute remedial measures to get football back on track. When Ramalingam was re-designated as the chief executive officer of league operators MFL, Mohd Saifuddin, who has had the experience of being a consultant for the Qatar and Oman leagues, was roped in as the general secretary.

Saifuddin who is also a recognised AFC match commissioner, lasted for a year before Noor Azman, previously coordinator or political operator at the President’s Office, was handpicked by Hamidin to be made head of the secretariat.

FAM can ill-afford general secretariat to be on shaky ground

Traditionally, the general secretary post is the preserve of individuals with certain degree of standing in society since the post-War days.

Former player A.R Singham was the first non-European to be appointed to the post of honorary secretary in 1940, followed by teacher and Stadium Board secretary, S.C.E Singam, Abdul Rahman from Penang for a brief moment and government officers Datuk Kwok Kin Keng and Datuk Paul Murugasu.

Teacher-turned-coach-turned administrator Datuk Seri Paul Mony Samuel was the first full-time FAM general secretary from 1985 to 2000. Former top cop, Datuk Dell Akbar Hyder Khan, succeeded Mony, followed by academician-turned-politician Tan Sri Dr Ibrahim Saad and former military general Datuk Seri Azzuddin Ahmad.

In 2013, former bank officer Hamidin succeeded Azzuddin, who himself was a victim of a poison pen letter in a scheme concocted to undermine the late Sultan Ahmad Shah’s tenure in 2008.

Ultimately, the secretariat is not a place to play politics or to flex one’s muscles; FAM does not belong to any individual. With a full-time president at the helm, the general secretary’s job scope has been reduced to implementing the decisions made by the various committees. Hamidin was probably the last general secretary to be empowered with executive powers to run the organisation.

A stable, ethical and professional general secretariat run by management-based salaried staff is the key to all the policies set out by the committees in FAM, with the general secretary ideally a mirror image of the president.

Drastic action, or maintain status quo?

Hamidin is not the only full-time salaried president in the continent. Others include the head of federations of Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Guam, Mongolia, Kuwait and Jordan, to name a few. And undoubtedly, football leaders across all borders enjoy financial perks, including FIFA president Gianni Infantino and UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.

But as a member of the FIFA Council consisting of 37 members headed by Infantino, Hamidin’s next course of action will be of great interest to a lot of people, including the staff of the FAM secretariat, the office-bearers and the 20 affiliates.

Some believe if Hamidin were to take a drastic action now, it would be validating the accusations, which could be tantamount to an admission of guilt. But if status quo is maintained, FAM may be perceived as being resistant to change despite the multiple allegations.

The media is already speculating that former Youth and Sports Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin, who was also a deputy president at FAM, will be vying to become the president next year.

Having survived an attempt to undermine his FIFA Council candidacy in 2023 when a poison pen letter alleging financial wrongdoings in FAM was circulated ahead of the elections, Hamidin’s leadership qualities are being put to the test now.

If the national body is seen as hesitant to get to the bottom of the issue, the anonymous writer who goes by the username "ultrasfam06" may be tempted to spill the tea further. Two staff apparently had submitted their resignation on the day FAM held its Congress.

Will the identity of "ultrasfam06" be revealed? If he happens to be an insider, will he be sacked from FAM? What if the writer is an outsider? Is he representing the sentiment of certain sections of the workforce? These questions remain unanswered for now.

For Hamidin to regain his footing, he has to fight on several angles. The president cannot be relying on the hammer as his only tool, otherwise he would see every problem as a nail.

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