How and why should a corporate profile like Fernandes end up being named as chief of the National Stadiums Board?


Age is no barometer to wisdom but common sense certainly is. And whilst 25-year-old Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman has made history by becoming the youngest minister the nation has had thus far, he has also created waves by ‘acting his age’ and all for the wrong reasons.

As soon as he was handed the Youth and Sports Ministry portfolio, the youngster asked that the ministry staff address him as ‘bro’ or short for brother.

His obsession with ‘bro’ had him on cloud nine when Indonesia’s Joko Widodo too enthralled him by calling him ‘bro’.

For a minister to insist that his staff address him as ‘bro’ was the first red flag for Malaysians.

Whilst the age factor is no damning factor for Syed Saddiq to climb up the ladder rapidly, it does however expose his inability to deal with the reality of the day.

That he holds the post of a minister in itself demands that Syed Saddiq carries himself in a dignified manner and stay clear of the malaise called cronyism.

Now comes news that the Youth and Sports Ministry has appointed Air Asia chief Tony Fernandes as chairperson of the National Stadiums Board. Fernandes takes over from predecessor Safri Abdul Aziz, who was a political appointee under the Barisan Nasional government.

“Being one of the most recognised entrepreneurs in the world and having won multiple award such as CEO of the Year and Entrepeneur of The Year, Tony has proven he has the business acumen to help improve our finances which have incurred a debt of RM11 million,” the Youth and Sports Ministry waxed lyrical in a statement justifying Fernandes’ appointment.

“He used to own English club Queens Park Rangers and was a founder of now defunct Formula1 team Caterham. He knows the in’s and out’s of developing and promoting sports on a global scale. Apart from that, his portfolio consisting aviation (AirAsia), entertainment (Warner Music), hotels (Tune Hotels) and broadcast (The Apprentice Asia) make him an ideal candidate for the job.”

The ministry also hopes the controversial Fernandes can help create a healthy and active culture among Malaysians, especially among the youth. Pun or otherwise, this truly is a tall order for the AirAsia founder given his personal battle with the bulge.

Syed Saddiq’s unwise move

It was not that long ago when Fernandes was condemned for his overwhelming support of the BN government in May, just days before the 14th general election was to take place.

Malaysians were shell shocked when Fernandes unabashedly endorsed former prime minister Najib Razak via video before personally taking an AirAsiaX plane to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, where Najib was then campaigning and flying the latter back to Kuala Lumpur.

The outpouring support for Najib saw Fernandes bending over backwards to repaint the plane’s signature red exterior to blue and with the BN logo and slogan splashed across.

That was not all. Even the cabin crew had to abandon their signature red uniforms to wear outfits that reflected BN’s cobalt blue shade.

Whatever the agenda behind AirAsia’s unflinching affection for BN, the end result proved to be a disaster for Fernandes. Malaysians wasted no time in taking him to task for playing politics.

Then came an apology via video with Fernandes claiming he was arm twisted to lend credence to the BN government and he regretted having succumbed to the pressure placed on him.

Fernandes found his share of sympathisers including Syed Saddiq, then youth leader who wrote that the former not be blamed for what happened, adding that AirAsia dutifully offered cheap rates to enable Malaysians to travel.

Cheap flight tickets? Is that all it takes for Fernandes to endear himself to the Youth and Sports Minster? Whatever happened to the fact that Fernandes willingly compromised AirAsia’s reputation and his credibility to please his ‘political masters’?

The pre-GE14 politicking by Fernandes could have been spared had he the courage to say ‘No’ to Najib. But the truth is Fernandes consciously chose to play along, believing the consequences would be in his favour.

How and why then should a corporate profile like Fernandes end up being named as chief of the National Stadiums Board?

The unwise Youth and Sports Minister may feign ignorance over the controversy Fernandes had courted but Malaysians are far from having forgotten and forgiven the AirAsia big big shot for betraying the nation.

Fernandes’ appointment to head the National Stadiums Board leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of once bitten twice shy Malaysians – just like it did when Syed Saddiq showed no interest in defending his press officer  Numan Afifi Saadan, an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activist, who resigned citing backlash and threats from opposition propagandists that got in the way of his work.