In the Dugout with Aysha Ridzuan: PFAM CEO Izham Ismail

While the quality of football within Malaysia has undoubtedly been on the rise in recent times, the level of professionalism continues to be a niggling issue, harming the reputation that more often than not, takes years to be manisfested. Cases of players being mistreatred by clubs, and teams not fulfilling their contractual obligations continue to sky-rocket as usual, leaving fans baffled and players unprotected.

But there seems to be some hope for the foreseeable future, with the revival of PFAM, which is the Professional Footballers Association of Malaysia. They are now officially registered as a legal entity and are working hand in hand with a myriad of players in ensuring that their fundamental rights as players, are inherently protected. caught up with PFAM’s CEO, Izham Ismail, for a quick chat on various matters involving the association.

Tell us about your football experience….Have you always been a football fan? Which team do you support?

Absolutely. I support Selangor and Liverpool. I attended my first Selangor match at Stadium Shah Alam when I was 8 years old. The memory of 1996 Malaysia Cup final against Sabah still gives me goosebumps.

Then I attended my first Liverpool match in 2009 at Anfield when Liverpool played Olympique Lyonnais in the group stage of the Champions League. Liverpool lost that night, but it didn’t really matter when you were watching from the Kop End.

Both teams have tremendous history and a powerful, passionate fan base. I’m honoured to be part of it in some way, and hopefully both teams won’t stop making history for me to tell my kids one day!

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Besides PFAM, what else do you do?

Other than running PFAM, I am a committee member of the National Football Development Programme. Football development is key for our football to remain competitive, and for us to be a true football powerhouse nation, we must formulate ways to use our limited resources available across the country in our young, passionate kids through technical knowledge and collaboration to widen the talent pool. I think for so long we have overlooked the importance of grassroots development, and I am just glad to be part of this initiative.

When did you know that Malaysian football needed PFAM? What happened?

PFAM was established in 2009 and after years of hiatus, the old PFAM was de-registered by the Sports Commissioner. The effort to rejuvenate PFAM started in 2013 and I was called up by the President of PFAM, Hairuddin Omar to draw a plan for the reactivation of PFAM. I had to do some groundwork on the situation of professional footballers in Malaysia and I figured out that rights and welfare of Malaysian footballers are not well taken care of. Salaries are not paid on time, contractual rights are not respected – and that’s when I knew Malaysian footballers need a PFAM.

With the support of FIFPro and the new executive team, the new PFAM was officially reactivated when the Sports Commissioner approved PFAM as a legal entity this year, so when Hairuddin Omar asked me to head the executive team, saying yes was quite an easy decision.

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What’s your main aim with PFAM?

To support the players, and to build the game. Our general aim is to promote, advance and protect the interest of footballers in Malaysia as an exclusive representative body and act as a collective bargaining agent of Malaysia’s professional footballers. We also seek to promote professional football as a stable, secure and worthwhile career, and provide advice and assistance to Malaysia’s professional footballers in their career development.

As a football fan with legal background, I really want to see Malaysian footballers be legally respected, and treated by their employers as proper employees with labour rights. Footballers should not be treated as a trading commodity but as professional assets with legal rights. Ultimately, I want PFAM to be the shield and sword for the players to fight for their rights.

Does PFAM only fight for local players or all players playing in Malaysia?

Any players with professional contracts are members of PFAM, hence both local and foreign players with professional contract are included.

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What are PFAM’s efforts so far in raising awareness of its existence among the players?

We have started our outreach programme to meet the players. We have started it with Perak FA and ATM FA, and we will travel across the nation over the next few months to reach out and raise awareness about PFAM. We have our dedicated communication team that oversees the operation of our website (, Twitter and Instagram (@pfamalaysia) in order for PFAM to be easily accesible for all players and members of the public.

Personally, I have written a few articles on PFAM’s website to raise awareness and have been invited to few football talk shows on RTM and Astro as a way to publicise our movement. Our office in Subang Jaya is also fully operational, and we have been getting visits from players who need our support. We have a long way to go and we are not planning to slow down.

Do you think Malaysian players are aware of what’s their rights as professional players?

I don’t think they fully understand their rights as a player and their contractual obligation towards their teams. Most of the time, they overlook some important elements in the contract, that may jeopardize their career as footballers, and that is why we want to educate them on their rights.

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What are the common cases of mistreatment towards players, as for the ones you have discovered so far?

Total disrespect by the FAs/clubs on contractual rights of players, where there are still cases of salaries that are not paid on time, and contracts being terminated without notice. This is sadly, pretty common. PFAM is currently handling more than 50 cases related to contract and the number is increasing.

In your opinion, what’s the main flaw in the Malaysian football player transfer system? How can it be changed?

In my opinion, Malaysian player transfer system is crippled. The freedom of movement for players is very restricted. It has to change to ensure professional footballers are afforded same rights and freedom like any other worker, as they are employees in the eye of law.

Football is an industry, and it is important to maintain financial and competitive balance of the game. The messy transfer system in Malaysia doesn’t do much in creating a balance of power between employers and employees in our football transfer and labour market. Most of the time, players are treated like trading commodity with no rights.

Other than that, we need to improve the standard of football governance in Malaysia where FAs/clubs should have high working standards and players  must have access to impartial arbitration or labour courts in cases where players status and transfer are concerned.

After 3 months with PFAM, I can say that the dispute resolution mechanism in Malaysian football is very bad, and players are not being treated fairly and with due respect. Unless the football dispute resolution system involving players’ status and transfer is improved, we won’t make improvements and players will continue to suffer.

Other than that, it is common knowledge that professional footballers’ contracts are very one-sided and favour the FAs/clubs, not players. PFAM is pushing for a reform in Malaysian footballers’ contracts, to ensure fundamental rights of professional footballers and their economic freedom are safeguarded.

PFAM is ready to negotiate with FAM, FAs and clubs to transform the system. Ball is in their court.

Photo courtesy of the Johor Southern Tigers Facebook Page
Photo courtesy of the Johor Southern Tigers Facebook Page

How about the Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail (TMJ). What’s TMJ’s role in PFAM? Why do you think he’s the right man for the role?

TMJ is our patron who has agreed to lend his name and support to PFAM to aid our efforts in protecting the interest of Malaysian footballers. He helps by lending us his credibility and assists us in getting noticed so our voice as PFAM is heard. Having said that, TMJ does not make any decision on behalf of PFAM as he does not have any executive responsibilities or liabilities, and we are still and will always be independent. PFAM will always belong to the players.

We share the same vision with TMJ; to have a more professional Malaysian football enviroment. He understands everything we believe in. Just like PFAM, he is young, dynamic and always hungry for success – that is why he is the right man for the role.

What’s your next plan? For yourself or PFAM…

I want PFAM to be more visible as a collective voice in championing players’ issues, and I want the players to know that PFAM will always have their back. For now, I just have to remain focused.

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