PETALING JAYA - A new dawn looks likely for Malaysian football, with Sultan Ahmad Shah set to step aside as the FA of Malaysia (FAM) president after a 30-year reign, setting the stage for a battle royal between two crown princes.
The 83-year-old Sultan, who took over as president in 1984, is said to be preparing to bow out tomorrow when the FAM Congress meets to elect a new set of office bearers for the 2014-18 term.
His withdrawal will set the stage for his son Tengku Abdullah, the Tengku Mahkota of Pahang and current FAM No. 2, to take on the Tengku Mahkota of Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.
Both crown princes are said to have an equal chance of victory, but a win for newcomer Tunku Ismail, popularly known as TMJ, will still be considered a stunning upset.
This is because Tengku Abdullah, 55, has been involved in FAM for nearly as long as his father, while Tunku Ismail, 29, took over as Johor FA president only two years ago.
The winner will be decided by votes from 39 delegates - the 14 state FAs will cast two votes each (28 votes), together with Armed Forces (2), Police (2), Malaysian Malays (2), Malaysian Chinese FA (2), Malaysian Indian Sports Council (2) and Malaysian Coaches Association (1).
Football fans have been clamouring for change in the FAM, what with the declining standards of the national team and sad state of affairs in the development of the game.
Many blame the Pahang Ruler's long and unchallenged reign as the main reason for the footballing setbacks.
Malaysia, ranked 145 in the FIFA list of 209 nations, last qualified for the Olympic football tournament in 1980. At the Asian Games level, Malaysia last won a bronze medal at the Teheran Games in 1974.
Tunku Ismail has the backing of some big names in Malaysian football, including Kelantan FA chief Tan Sri Annuar Musa and former Perlis FA head Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, both of whom are currently suspended by FAM for being critical of it.
The current Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, a former FAM deputy president, is also said to be keen for a change in FAM.
Tunku Ismail has pledged between RM2mil and RM3mil as annual grants to each FAM affiliate, up from the several hundred thousand they now get.
Tengku Abdullah, who brings a wealth of experience in sport (he is also the Malaysian Hockey Federation president), is quietly confident of victory should there be a contest.
Some officials are not totally ruling out a last-minute truce, saying Tunku Ismail could yet be persuaded to withdraw from the race, paving the way for Tengku Abdullah to win unopposed.
For the deputy presidency, a contest is certain with a three-cornered fight between vice-presidents Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal and Datuk Seri Afandi Hamzah, and Selangor FA deputy president Datuk Abdul Mokhtar Ahmad.