[SINGAPORE] A new Malaysian football body will launch a drive to stamp out match-fixing and hooliganism when it takes over the running of domestic competitions next year, its chief executive told AFP.
Malaysian soccer has been repeatedly hit by scandal, most recently last week when flare-throwing fans brought a World Cup qualifier with Saudi Arabia to a halt.
But Football Malaysia's CEO Kevin Ramalingam said a reorganisation and a lucrative new TV deal could be the start of a new era, comparing it to the English Premier League's advent in 1992.
Football Malaysia will operate the country's top two divisions and cup competitions from January, in a set-up similar to the Premier League and Germany's Bundesliga.
The new TV rights deal with sports media company MP and Silva guarantees a minimum of RM1.26 billion (US$297 million) over 15 years - double what was previously earned.
"I see it as a starting point," Mr Ramalingam said on the sidelines of the Sports Matters conference in Singapore.
"I think we're at a position that's very exciting in terms of what lies ahead... This is the first year of the EPL in that sense."
However, Mr Ramalingam said domestic football needed an image boost if it wants TV income to rise still further, with eradicating match-fixing high on the list.
Football Malaysia will use betting tracking systems and life bans to crack down on corruption, while also warning players that games are under ever closer scrutiny.
"We've come to a point where we have to make sure we're serious about kicking these kind of things out of the game," Mr Ramalingam said.
"I think it's (match-fixing) a problem that's happening less now but certainly the possibility of it being there is very strong. Hopefully in the next two of three years we'll be rid of this stigma."
He added that Football Malaysia would also try to stop hooliganism before it happens by monitoring social networks and talking to fans to calm their frustrations.
Militant fans had warned they may disrupt last week's World Cup qualifier, which came after Malaysia's record 10-0 defeat to UAE a few days earlier.
The defeat has had major repercussions, with the national coach quitting and Malaysia's governing body, Football Association Malaysia, launching a review to raise standards.
Domestic football has also seen outbreaks of violence with angry fans clashing on the streets with tear gas-firing police.
"Normally when these things rear their head, it's after weeks of a certain campaign on social media for example. So it's more or less predicted," Mr Ramalingam said.
"Maybe when these things happen we need to take these early warning signs seriously and tackle the issue instead of waiting to see whether it (trouble) does happen."