EPL, Malaysia’s proxy to fight racism | Opinion

AUGUST 19 — Wisely, the column steers away from the current toxic power merry-go-round. Instead, today is about rays of hope from elsewhere which bolster Malaysia’s race harmony.

Elsewhere being from over 10,000 kilometres away, the inspirations which are the English Premier League (EPL) and its Fantasy League (FL).

Inadvertently, this helps millions of local football fans to internalise that people’s worth lie with their individual qualities not their racial makeup. And saying otherwise and picking on race is a bad, bad thing.

This is more valuable because historically our own leaders at home lack the moral courage to oppose racism. They give all kinds of reasons but at the heart of it, being racist benefits them… makes winning office easier. None of them dare to despise it out of fear they’d be alienated.

To discuss the subject, EPL’s size and access to Malaysians must be measured before asserting its efficacy — regardless of being a foreign league with football clubs —  to challenge Malaysia’s institutionalised racism.

Here we go

Not a great opener.

Since its inception in 1992, more than a hundred nationalities or more than half of the UN have been represented in the EPL, but not Malaysia.

Not one Malaysian has played in it even if Malaysians own two clubs that have been in it.

Therefore, this link must be vague. Latest electronic data helps clarify.

Monday, August 16 — three days ago — Muhyiddin Yassin under enormous public attention and pressure resigns as prime minister. A watershed moment carefully monitored online by citizens.

Screenshot of Google search trends for August 16, 2021.

Google registered over 100,000 domestic name searches for Muhyiddin throughout the day. At second place, also with over 100,000 searches here in Malaysia, Tottenham Hotspurs versus Manchester City — two major EPL teams.

The game in London ended 1-0 for Spurs in the early hours of August 16. But tellingly, Malaysians looked out for it as much as they did for our biggest political news. 

Not to mention, there were nine other fixtures played in the season opening weekend, not added to the Spurs-City count.

That’s how big the EPL is in Malaysia despite us being eight time zones ahead with no representatives — players, coaches, physios or ball-pickers (just guessing) — in the 10-month long league. Cynically, how many local politicians would the average Malaysian watch attentively for 90 minutes, let alone at four in the morning?

Parallelly, a slice from the millions of Malaysian fans, participate in FL. The fraction constitutes almost 300,000 fantasy managers, or about four per cent of the global seven million registrants. 

One in every 25 Fantasy League manager is from Malaysia. Stadium Astro’s sub-league has over 260,000 participants now. Even the Selangor Mentri Besar Amirudin Shari like Astro hosts a sub-league. In my alumni sub-league, after Week One, Rosen “Pakwan” Irwan’s Zenn United leads.

For the uninitiated, FL managers pick players from the league and win points weekly from their actual performances. It forces fantasy managers to know teams, players and all developments as they trade players nominally weekly and also do periodical wholesale housekeeping.

In order to do well, they have to keep track of not only their own teams but other teams, as their squad of 15 ever-changing players cannot have more than three players from any one club at a time.

If the EPL is unrelenting like the football pace and its fans, the FL universe compounds the experience for participant managers.

EPL fans are like Coldplay fans who bought all their albums, and FL participants are next stage geeks — have the albums and also collect ticket stubs from every Coldplay performance from Camden to Berlin.

Both types banter throughout the week with mates in… — damn you Covid-19! Millions of Malaysians speak about the EPL more than any other subject matter.

No room for racism

The EPL openly fights bigotry. No apologies and no qualifiers, it’s just not on.

Clubs and even the national team when playing away in less-inclusive East Europe are allowed to walk out if there’s racial abuse. No more just take it, ignore the bunch of drunk yokels letting off steam.

Football and the EPL won’t put up with racial slurs.

And those millions of Malaysians are witnesses to these developments.

That a billion-dollar industry grinds to a standstill and their own heroes stand up to it, and football takes a backseat when these disturbances occur, the Malaysians in Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Leicester kit resting in their sofas realise the world is changing. 

And some serious people they look up to feel it’s impudent to be indifferent to race issues. Hate couched in race, religion or culture, is still hate.


This is not to say race, identity and discrimination out of those two do not occur in Britain. There are parts of London marked unsafe down to the demographics and working class living there. Police probably slip into informal racial profiling and many other wrongs go on.

However, football has decided to be at the front and centre of challenging racism and the discrimination which accompanies it.

The whole time a match is on TV, along with the score the screen reads “No room for racism.”

Players walk on to pitches with minority children and captains constantly read out pledges to upend racism in all its forms. Clubs are fined for crossing the line.

I’m sure Najib Razak and Anwar Ibrahim as Manchester United fans have seen and heard about these progressive ideas, while they spout subtle race distinctions necessary as a natural order of life in their own country.

EPL actively and repeatedly tells millions of its Malaysian fans that bigotry is horrible and has no excuse, despite what their local training, orientation and reinforcements inform them.

Remember the fans here are 90 per cent males, and usually the more hard-headed and opinionated.

The EPL reaches our masses, which Bangsar liberals struggle to penetrate.

FL managers experience higher impact in that they are forced to bypass embedded racial conditioning. They pick players on abilities, not race. Pick Pogba on form, not because of his Guinean Muslim ancestry. Dump Kante, not Jorginho over tactics, not skin colour. They are rewarded by positive behaviour and as educators will inform, process learning sticks.

Is it enough counterweight, the egalitarian world of EPL to our established acceptance of racism? No, but it is a mile higher than what our leaders and celebrities aspire for. 

Our personalities at this stage of national development utilise race to propel their own advancements, not challenge it.

EPL and global football may be less aware of how their work has eaten into the morass of institutionalised racism in Malaysia. It probably matters less. But the results, they are real.

Every time Sadio Mane or Son Heung-min scores and they scream out loud in monoethnic enclaves, a little of that invisible wall that divides us based on race in Malaysia starts to peel off. For that, thank you, EPL.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.