In the wake of the massacre in Paris, the whole week has been about fighting for freedom of speech. In Malaysian football, freedom of speech is almost like a crime.
We talk about how great Mokhtar Dahari was. What a player he was. He’s not known as Supermokh for nothing. His contribution to the national team will always be remembered. There’s no denying about that and we probably will not see another him. I wish I lived in the days when Malaysian football was great, I wish I witnessed in my own eyes how amazing Mokhtar Dahari was in the 70s and when he won ten Malaysia Cup trophies with Selangor. Thanks to books and documentaries about him, I learned one or two about him and understood why he’s respected by all.
As a football player, everyone knows how legendary he was. But not many talk about his character as a man. I think he’s not only admirable as a player, but also as a person. I didn’t realise how forthright he was l until I read about him in the excellent book Mokhtar Dahari: Lagenda Bola Sepak Malaysia.
Besides football, Mokhtar also writes about his thoughts and feelings about local football. He had a column called ‘Mokhtar Dahari Menulis’ (Mokhtar Dahari Writes) with Dunia Sukan magazine in the early 80s. I personally will read articles by a football player, especially a still-playing player of his calibre. FAM probably didn’t see this coming and they were evidently uncomfortable when the Selangor man expressed his disagreement over the new format of the Malaysia Cup. It is said to be against FIFA rules for amateur players to write and that forced the column to be renamed to ‘Dialog Bersama Mokhtar’ (Dialogue with Mokhtar). Mokhtar expressing his thoughts through the media certainly put FAM on the edge. But I feel that was healthy for Malaysian football.
Players are also part of the game and Mokhtar felt there’s nothing wrong with them expressing their opinion as long as it does not involved FAM’s administrative issues. All his writings were for the benefit of the Malaysian football and it was in the end, still up to FAM to consider his thoughts and suggestions. Mokhtar believed FAM could at least review their weaknesses or anything they lack of when players brought up matters concerning their trainings, fixtures and anything related to that.
Mokhtar got in trouble with FAM in 1985 when through his column ‘On Target’ on New Straits Times, he wrote about his disagreement with FAM’s decision to postpone the Malaysia Cup 1985 final match from early May to late June. FAM claimed that they came to that decision in respect of Ramadhan but Mokhtar felt, and he was absolutely confident that it was only to avoid clashing with the national team training fixture who will play a friendly game against South Korea. To know that he dared to question FAM’s decision on a mainstream media is refreshing to me because it doesn’t happen anymore these days. It can’t happen. It is not allowed to happen.
He was then ordered by FAM to submit an explanation letter on why he should not be punished and he was eventually charged under FAM Statute Article 23 which banned him from writing about FAM including criticising FAM and expressing his disappointment towards the national football body. It also states that only the President and the General Secretary can make any statements through the media. Sounds like the infamous Article 88, no? That was it for Mokhtar and his thoughts.
Among those who have been charged under that similar Article for expressing their opinion in recent years were Kelantan FA President, Tan Sri Annuar Musa for criticising the national team’s performance, Johor FA President, Tunku Ismail for his comment on the quality of referees in Malaysia and also Perlis FA President Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim who demanded transformation within the FAM back in 2013.
If the great Mokhtar was still alive today, he would be shaking his head in dismay to know that after 30 years since he stopped writing, things haven’t changed and FAM is still untouchable.
Je Suis Mokhtar.