Malaysia Football Association's newly-elected president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim believes that the country's football team should not head to Pyongyang for the 2019 Asian Cup Qualifier on 8 June amidst the strained relations between the two countries following the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Kuala Lumpur in February.
TMJ says he is concerned about the safety of his players but added the final decision will be made by the Malaysian government and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin. Notably, the Group B match was scheduled for at the Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang on 28 March but the FAM had requested the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to push the tie to a later date and neutral venue.
However, the AFC had announced on 8 June that the tie will be played in Pyongyang on the rescheduled date as there was no travel restriction put on by the Malaysian government.
"As is known, the Malaysian government does not encourage the Harimau Malaya [Malaysian team] to go to North Korea due to current diplomatic issues. However, until now the Malaysian government has yet to issue a travel ban, only a travel advisory, and that is not enough for the AFC to change the venue of the match to a neutral venue," Tunku Ismail said, as quoted by Today.
"As FAM president, I do not agree at all that we should go to North Korea, but that decision lies with the Malaysian government and the Sports Minister. For me, the priority is the safety of Malaysian citizens. We have to make a decision to place the safety of our people at the top of the agenda."
Under the current circumstances, if Malaysia choose not to travel to Pyongyang, North Korea will be awarded with a 3-0 win and the Tigers are likely to be disqualified from the qualifying campaign. Apart from this, the AFC might slap the FAM with fines and sanctions.
Tunku Ismail says he is fully aware of the consequences of pulling out from the North Korea fixture but that he is more concerned about the safety arrangements. He reportedly added that he has received information about possible sabotage and thus his players also needed to travel with their own food and accommodation arrangements.
"The question is, what can we do? I want this match to be played in a neutral venue to ensure the safety of our national players."