A series of recent events beginning with the Macau Football Association’s (MFA) announcement that the Macau team would not be participating in the second- leg match against Sri Lanka has sparked criticism about the way the local association has been handling sporting matters.
The match, which was to be played in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo as part of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 1, never took place. The MFA informed the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that the team would not travel to Sri Lanka due to security concerns.
As MFA officials explained at the time at a press conference, the local football governing body had expressed concerns over security matters and called for the Sri Lankan Football Federation to agree to host the match on neutral ground. The request was rejected by the Sri Lankan Football Federation, which said that all the appropriate safety measures had been enforced and that security was fully guaranteed.
Following this, and in light of their absence from the match, the Macau team players expressed dissatisfaction over the local football association’s decision and sent letters to the international governing bodies of the sport.
Further protests against the recent MFA decisions occurred during a match for the Macau FA Cup last Sunday, during which the teams of Ka I and Hang Sai deliberately engaged in a poor display of the sport by playing a 39-goal match, in which walking attackers were met with unspotted defenders and missing goalkeepers. The match was prematurely terminated by the referee, who noticed that the two teams were deliberately conceding goals to one another, ending the game with a score of 21-18 in favor of Ka I, creating yet another case for the MFA to solve.
THE ‘RONALDO DREAM’
“I think it is time for new blood to take care of the Macau Football Association,” said former player and current coach José Maria da Cruz Martins (better known as “Pelé”), a great connoisseur of local football since his arrival in Macau 26 years ago.
“The way I see things, people working inside [the MFA] are still not aware of what football means to the world and to today’s youth. If people want football as a sport to develop in Macau, I think the government has to take a stand […] otherwise, we are going to fall completely and our kids will stop practicing sports, even at school,” he said.
“Today’s dream for many children is to become a Messi or a Ronaldo,” he said, but that dream might disappear in future generations if there is no shakeup in local football.
Recounting a short history of local football over the past 20 years, Pelé noted, “Until 1999 we had good football in Macau.”
Following a five-year absence from local football, Pelé said, “when I returned in 2004 I noticed that [the quality] had fallen a lot.” Some teams tried to rectify the situation in the following years, seeking to bring sporting quality up to a reasonable level. That enthusiasm had run dry by 2013.
“2013 was the last year that I saw a strong local championship, with teams like Sporting [de Macau] strong [under the sponsorship of MGM] and Benfica [de Macau] starting to win championships, but also with Chao Pak Kei (CPK) football team investing and Monte Carlo well positioned and playing well together with Ka I.”
Regarding the development of local football, Pelé recalled a meeting in 2015 in which all the teams of the Elite League (Macau’s First Division) were represented. He suggested that the local association could partner with its counterpart in Hong Kong to have a “Special Trophy” to be competed for among the best five teams of each league, increasing the interaction between Macau and Hong Kong football.
According to Pelé, this “Regional League Trophy” would not only increase the quality of football, but would also bring more people to stadiums.
“We are all tired of this [poor system],” said Pelé. “Football is for those who have the passion and love the sport. It’s not for people ‘seated’ behind desks waiting for the end of the month,” he concluded.
Questioned on the penalties that Macau might face due to its absence from the Sri Lanka match, Pelé said, “If that happens – and it is likely that it will – we are going to have to restart all over again from square one.”
LACK OF INTEREST, AMBITION
Questioned by the Times on the same topic, the president of Benfica de Macau, Duarte Alves, addressed the same frustrations with the MFA that he has raised in recent interviews with the Times.
“Is it really worth investing our time to help develop football in Macau?” he posed.
This is a big question he considers “unfortunately, still topical.”
“This year I have once again criticized the association because of the way the Elite League is managed, as well as the lack of ambulances, and quality of the refereeing,” said Alves.
“The latest episode with the MFA only gives more validation to my protests last year and in late-2016, when the ‘forgotten fax’ story occurred,” he said, in reference to an incident where the Benfica team was not registered to play in the AFC Cup due to an alleged blunder by the local association.
“All the factors point to the fact that there is a lack of interest in developing Macau’s football to an international level. The image that is portrayed to us is one of a lack of ambition and of the will to keep all limitations in place when they could be easily overcome,” Alves said.
“We don’t actually know the exact complaints that the MFA had regarding the Sri Lanka match. I hope that more information is disclosed and that people won’t accept the usual lack of response until the topic is forgotten.”
Alves also mentioned the poor responsiveness of the MFA, saying that he was still waiting for a clarification message from the entity about why Benfica could not join the AFC Cup in 2017, even when the invitation from the AFC had been delivered via the MFA. “I asked for this reply back in 2016 and I am still waiting for an answer today,” he told the Times.
For the president of one of the most successful teams in Macau, the only possible solution to rehabilitating the local football scene is the possibility of “an injection of new blood and very concrete goals in the mid and long-term.”
For Alves, including clubs in the development and governance of local sport is important, because this is the only way Macau can produce good local players capable of strengthening the national team in the future. However, he said that the MFA just don’t appear to share that vision.
Alves commented on the need for a good association helped by “an independent body that can manage the Elite League and one that is independent from the MFA and from the referee team.”
“Only in this way can we have transparency.”
Like Pelé, Alves is also calling for “internal change” in the organization and management of the sport, “otherwise we will always have the same people in charge of matters, with the same ideas and the same flaws.”