Women’s Worlds: Malaysian govt hits out at Hallmark
By ALAN THATCHER
The Malaysian government has launched a furious attack on the Hallmark Events Group following the cancellation of the Women’s World Championship, scheduled for Kuala Lumpur from December 11-18.
The Malaysians are claiming that Hallmark used allegations of a security risk to conceal the fact that they had failed to find sponsors to underwrite the tournament.
Many players, currently competing in the Hong Kong Open, have complained to the PSA that they have paid for flights to Malaysia and risk being stranded.
In a further twist, players complain that, instead of hotel accommodation being provided by the promoters, they have had to pay for their own rooms in KL. Many are non-refundable, which means that players will be out of pocket.
Today’s English-language Star newspaper carries a front page article, and two more stories inside, with politicians and the Malaysian police chief lambasting the Hallmark Group.
Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said there was no security threat in Malaysia, especially one that would jeopardise an international event.
“I dispute the claim. We have just hosted many world leaders. If it’s safe enough for (US President) Barack Obama to come to Kuala Lumpur, I’m sure it’s safe enough for squash players,” said Khairy, adding that the claim was “ridiculous”.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said: “Malaysia recently hosted many foreign delegates and leaders in various summits, which went on smoothly.
“We also host various other events, including sporting competitions every year without any incident,” he tweeted.
Adding to the mystery, the promoters had failed to announce a title sponsor or a venue for the glass court, although it is understood to have been close to the Petronas Towers.
Squash sources in Malaysia claimed that a shopping mall and an open-air space close to the Towers had been considered. It rains a lot in Malaysia at this time of year, which may have ruled out the open-air option, unless some form of marquee or covering had been planned.
The internal areas are rented out for events, which would have been a sizeable portion of the event budget. It was announced in August last year that Hallmark had secured the rights to the Women’s World Championship for a three-year term.
An event Facebook page had been set up following the media release 15 months ago, but no further posts have been added since.
The PSA has set up an independent review of the situation, which will doubtless throw up many questions which will need answering.
The promoters will have been required to pay a deposit to secure dates on the world calendar. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the Hallmark have actually sought to have the deposit returned, citing security risks for their problems in staging the event.
Checks should have been made to ensure that prize money was in place for such a major event. The absence of any kind of media campaign, where events would usually announce the acquisition of title sponsors and a landmark venue for the glass court, has given rise to further speculation about how advanced the promoters were in what is believed to have been their first foray into squash.
The Star article reported that the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, said there was no intelligence that indicated any security threat in the country.
“We are remaining vigilant to ensure the safety and security of the country,” he said yesterday. “However, there is no evidence to suggest any danger or security risk.
“We will first approach the organisers and find out what they meant by security risks.”
The Squash Rackets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) claimed they were in the dark about the whole scenario.
The promotional responsibility lay with the Hallmark Group and SRAM say they were required only to provide referees and a tournament director.
The Star quotes SRAM president Huang Ying How as saying: “We have been mostly kept in the dark. Hallmark approached us for help with referees and in appointing a tournament director, but that was about it.
“I do not understand why they mentioned security as a reason to postpone the world meet. They never brought that up with us during the few times we met.”
The Star also spoke to Malaysian No.3 Low We Wern, who said: “We have never had any security issues in the country and all the players were looking forward to competing in Malaysia.
“I enjoyed the world meet in Penang last year and really wanted to compete on home ground again.”
Olympic Council of Malaysia deputy president Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria told The Star that Malaysia could have handled any security concern.
He said: “This is a very safe country and the Government is well equipped to handle any risk. The International Olympic Committee had a big event here recently, and they were very impressed with the organisation and the conduct, as well as effectiveness of our security personnel.”
The Star is understood to be planning articles with further revelations about the situation.
With squash such a popular sport in Malaysia, largely thanks to the success of world champion Nicol David, the Star detailed a large team of reporters to cover the story. They have sought responses from all quarters but have yet to publish a response from the Hallmark Group.
It is obvious, from conversations with squash contacts in Malaysia, that SRAM have felt marginalised by the whole operation, despite their track record in hosting a number of successful events in recent years.