SINGAPORE - It is an unlikely scenario, indeed, a very improbable one, that reigning champions the LionsXII will lose to T-Team tomorrow and results in two other games go against them for the Singapore side to land in the relegation zone at the end of this season's Malaysian Super League (MSL).
If it does happen, though, Fandi Ahmad's LionsXII could fall through the trap door and into the second-tier Malaysian Premier League (MPL).
This despite the promise of relegation immunity when the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a Singapore side to return to Malaysian club competitions in 2011.
In Malaysian media reports on Monday, FAM secretary general Hamidin Amin was quoted as saying that the LionsXII could still be relegated because the immunity was a verbal understanding and not written into the agreement.
The New Paper has had a look at the 2012 manual of the MSL, which includes in writing the LionsXII's immunity to relegation.
TNP understands that following FAM elections last month, its newly-formed committees will meet for the first time this weekend, a situation that could see the relegation issue reopened for discussion.
By convention, the bottom two sides in the 12 team MSL will drop down to the MPL the following season, and Fandi's charges could sink from eighth to 11th on the final day of the season tomorrow, should they lose to T-Team in Terengganu and Perak and ATM FA - both on 23 points, two adrift of the LionsXII - win their fixtures against Pahang and Sime Darby, respectively.
Bottom side PKNS are already relegated.
LionsXII could be relegated FAM could revoke immunity agreement for Singapore's MSL team, but Fandi's side still hold their fate in their own hands It's been a disastrous season for us. It's unthinkable that from champions we are now fighting relegation, yet, here we are.
There's no confirmation on the immunity situation, but things are still in our hands, and this last match is about pride and desire. We have to win and salvage our season. - LionsXII captain Isa Halim
If the LionsXII do fall to 11th, and the FAM stands by its 2011 decision of relegation immunity, the side that finishes 10th will join PKNS in the MPL next year.
In response to queries from TNP, FAS director of marketing and communications, Gerard Wong, said the team's focus was simply on beating TTeam. "The FAS and FAM are always working closely in all administrative and competition matters involving the LionsXII, and this particular topic will be discussed when necessary," said Wong, who added that the FAS remains "deeply appreciative of the opportunity to be part of the MSL".
The two teams that finish in the bottom two of the MSL will enter into a playoff with the fifth and sixth-placed teams of the MPL to see which sides make the Malaysia Cup.
B Sathianathan, coach of the ATM side that could be relegated should the LionsXII's immunity ruling be upheld, recalled being briefed on that detail in 2011, but believes it is a good move should relegation become a reality for the Singapore team.
"When there's no relegation, there isn't much to motivate the team," said Sathia.
"If a coach has no relegation to worry about, and nothing to fight for at this stage in the season, he could just test out younger players in the remaining games. The players might not give 100 per cent in matches, either," he added.
Former Perak and Kelantan coach Steve Darby agreed.
"If a team is allowed to win the league, it should also be allowed to fall into the second tier," he said, although he conceded that if a rule of immunity was written into the contract, it should be adhered to.
"It's not fair to the league and can create a situation where one team can say another team didn't try.
This article was first published on June 24, 2014.
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