KUALA LUMPUR, July 28 — English Premier League football team Chelsea have filed an official complaint with Malaysian football authorities over what they say were anti-Semitic taunts targeted at the club’s Israeli midfielder, Yossi Benayoun, during their friendly match here last week.
Chelsea’s 1-0 friendly win over the Malaysian Olympic squad last week was overshadowed by boos directed at Benayoun, the first Israeli footballer to have played in Malaysia in recent memory.
The jeering of the captain of the Israeli national team throughout the first half was given wide coverage in the international media, including British tabloid the Daily Mirror and wire services, embarrassing Malaysia, which has tried to project an image of being a moderate Muslim nation.
According to a report in UK daily The Guardian today, Chelsea had initially doubted that the chants were related to Benayoun’s nationality but later probes revealed that anti-Semitism was involved in the crowd abuse.
“Notwithstanding most fans behaving appropriately on the night, we believe Yossi was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse by a number of supporters at the game,” a club spokesman was quoted in The Guardian’s article.
“Such behaviour is offensive, totally unacceptable and has no place in football.”
Benayoun was booed by Malaysian fans whenever he went near the ball during the friendly game at Bukit Jalil last week, and was relentlessly taunted throughout his entire stint during the first half.
Muslim-majority Malaysia is an ardent supporter of Palestine and has no diplomatic ties with Israel.
Muslim politicians have long vied for support from Malays by denouncing what they say is inhumane aggression from Israel towards its neighbour.
The formal complaint by the club now increases the likelihood of sanctions against Malaysia by football’s governing body, Fifa, which has taken a hard stance against racism in the game.
Chelsea won the friendly 1 – 0, with a goal by Didier Drogba.
If Malaysia is sanctioned by Fifa, it would be a major embarassment for a country eager to show it is a model for moderate behaviour.
Datuk Seri Najib Razak has crossed the globe to project such an image since taking office two years ago, most recently to London and the Vatican City — only the second prime minister of Malaysia to visit the leadership of the Catholic Church.
The Umno president has also harped on the need for members and leaders of the world’s major faiths to censure and reject their own extremists and jointly support a “global movement of moderates”.
Former Malaysian FA official Peter Velappan, who was once a general secretary of the Asian Football Confederation, was quoted last week admitting the abuse was regrettable, if hard to prevent. "It is of course unsporting," he said. "This is quite rampant in many of the European countries ... [but] especially in [multiracial] Malaysia we are supposed to set an example."