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Why did Malaysians riot at match with Saudi Arabia?

Witnesses said the Shah Alam stadium outside Kuala Lumpur was 'like a war zone' [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 September, 2015

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Blog: Flare-throwing football fans forced Malaysia's qualifier with Saudi Arabia to be abandoned, as they vented their anger against their country's football authorities over last week's 10-0 defeat.
A diehard Malaysian national football fans group known as Ultras Malaya is unapologetic over the riots that broke out during a qualifying match between the national teams of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

On its official Twitter account, the group posted: "Sorry players. Sorry Malaysians. Sorry Saudi Arabians. But it had to be done."

A senior member of the group, who calls himself Freddie Ben, said they had exhausted all proper channels to express their frustrations with the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).

"Our protests have been going on for three years. We have gone through all the official channels. Why do people question our supporters who are tired of FAM's leadership? Who dares to challenge FAM's leadership?"

Ultras Malaya, which comprises fans from various states across the country, boasts a membership of around 15,000. Asked whether any of its members were involved in attacking the Saudi Arabia fans, Ben said he had no information about it.

"If I had seen it, I'll admit that we did it."

He added that the group did not understand why people were blaming the fans instead of focusing on improving the declining state of the country's football team.

"We do not care what others think. They keep blaming, but they never come down to the stadium to support the national team."

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had remarked that the riot had embarrassed the country.

Ben rejected the comment: "I should ask him, when we were beaten 10-0 by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), did he not feel embarrassed?"

Al Fadli Awaludin, another member of Ultras Malaya, said they had to take drastic measures to "knock some sense" into FAM. "We had to hit FAM where it hurts the most. We had to humiliate FAM to get the message across," he said.

Ultras Malaya began as a group of 20 passionate fans to support the national team in 2007 ahead of the Asia Cup, which Malaysia hosted. The frustration over the national team's repeated failures to make a mark on the world stage and FAM's failure to improve Malaysian football led to the group starting its #PresidenFAMSilaLetakJawatan campaign last year.
[clip via al-Araby Arabic service]

It was meant to force former FAM president Sultan Ahmad Shah, who was at the helm for 30 years, to step down.

The riots

Eleven Malaysian fans were arrested for rioting and attacks on at least two Saudi football fans on Tuesday night at the Shah Alam stadium in Malaysia.

According to reports, the Malaysian police are searching for other suspects who were involved in throwing flares onto the pitch when their team trailed Saudi Arabia 2-1.

Officials eventually called off the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup qualifier.

The Hong Kong referee ended the game three minutes before the final whistle and ordered the players to return to their dressing rooms.

Witnesses said that the stadium, 25km from Kuala Lumpur, looked like a "war zone." There were scenes of fans throwing plastic chairs at security officers.

According to reports in the Malaysian press, fans from the host nation attacked Saudi fans inside and outside the stadium.

In addition, a 23-year-old Yemeni student studying in Malaysia said that he suffered leg injuries as he tried to escape his attackers.

Some fans claimed they were attacked by masked men armed with clubs.

The Saudi fans stayed back at a holding area in the stadium while Malaysia fans dispersed, before they left on buses under police escort.

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