Football-famous Tengku Abdullah set to be Malaysia’s ‘sporting’ King

FOR the first time in Malaysian royal history, an internationally-renowned sports figure will almost certainly be the next Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The Regent of Pahang, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (above), is set to be installed as the sixth Sultan of Pahang on Tuesday, perfectly paving the way, on royal protocol-rotation, to be crowned Malaysia’s new king on Oct 31.

After the Sultan of Kelantan, who abdicated earlier this month, the next in line in the rotation of the nine Malay Rulers are the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan of Johor and Sultan of Perak respectively

Tengku Abdullah’s father, also a sports-fanatic ruler, Sultan Ahmad Shah, aged 88, is reportedly unwell and has agreed to give way to his 59-year-old eldest son. Sultan Ahmad Shah had reigned for 45 years, including a stint as Malaysian King from 1979 to 1984.

A father of nine, Tengku Abdullah, born on July 30, 1959 at Istana Mangga Tunggal, Pekan, is the fourth child and eldest son of Sultan Ahmad Shah and Almarhumah Tengku Ampuan Afzan.

He was named Tengku Mahkota Pahang on July 1, 1975, and installed as Sultan Ahmad Shah’s heir apparent on Oct 23, 1977 at Istana Abu Bakar. He married Tengku Puan Pahang Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Sultan Iskandar in 1986.

WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE

Sports aside, Tengku Abdullah has a wealth of experience in state administration as he had taken on the day-to-day duties of his father since being appointed Regent in December 2016. This is not Tengku Abdullah’s first turn as Regent as he had served in that role before when Sultan Ahmad Shah was the Yang di-Pertuan Agong from 1979 to 1984.

Like father, like son, and they have prominently been involved in promoting football, the No 1 sport in Malaysia, in top-capacities with the FAM (Football Association of Malaysia), AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and AFF (Asean Football Federation).

Tengku Abdullah, however, went a step higher on the global scene by being elected to the executive committee of the world football-governing body FIFA (Federation of International Football Association). He was also outstanding at hockey and was President of the AHF (Asian Hockey Federation).

AFC general secretary Dato’ Windsor John Paul praises him as a “very very experienced football administrator”. He says: “He’s very passionate about football, a sport he has excelled as a player from teenage days.”

He adds that Tengku Abdullah was “someone who took criticism positively, never personal”, He explains: “He’s always very well informed about football matters. He has proposed many reforms for the AFC as Chairperson of the AFC Governance Task Force. Bottom line, he’s very caring and easily approachable.”

PEOPLE-ORIENTATED MINDSET

Former Singapore’s award-winning coach Jita Singh, who coached in Pahang and Johor in the Malaysia Cup in the late 1980s and 90s, says the “people-orientated mindset of the Regent will make a world of a difference in linking with the commoners”.

He says: “If he’s crowned King, it will be a very big booster for sports in Malaysia. His heart is absolutely with football and with his extensive grassroots connections, he’s very popular and well-liked by the common folks.”

Truly a people’s prince. That’s how former Singapore skipper Terry Pathmanathan describes Tengku Abdullah, who he knew personally when he played for Pahang in the Malaysia Cup.

He says: “Without a doubt, he’s a people’s prince. Very passionate about the sport men’s well being and very supportive. Very down to earth and can show his other side where he is full of humour and joking. It was a very high honour to have played for him and his family in Pahang.”

Pathmanathan, who played for six years from 1982-1987 and scored the winning goal for Pahang against Selangor to win the Malaysia Cup, for the first time, in 1983 and was voted the ‘most exciting player in Malaysia in 1984’ says “the prince personally took care of me on and off the field”. For his football contributions, Pathmanathan was awarded the PJK (Pingat Jasa Kebaktian) in 1985 for “outstanding sporting contributions to the state”.

‘SPORTS-FANATIC’ KING

Former Malaysian midfielder and national coach Dato M. Karathu says the Malaysian sports fraternity is “overwhelmed to welcome a sports-fanatic King”. He says: “I never believed that a former FAM President will be a future King of Malaysia, just like his father. Every former national and club players from the 1960s onwards adore Tengku Abdullah, who leads by example in whatever he does.

Singapore’s favourite football son and ex-national coach Fandi Ahmad also offered “advance congratulations to Tengku Abdullah”. He says: “I’ve always known Tengku as an extremely strong supporter of football and sports for the people. As the newly-sworn Yang di-Pertuan Agong , which is almost a certainty, I’m sure he will continue his very strong support of sports. My best wishes to him.”

Personally, I’ve met Tengku Abdullah several times in Kuala Lumpur on football-assignments and found him to be very polite and down-to-earth. He recognises you at first greeting, remembers your name and never fails to acknowledge in future meetings. In my mind, he’s so down-to-earth and humble and just like a commoner, someone, who from the children to the seniors respect and adore as he hardly pulls royalty-ranks and it’s no surprise that he loves to be around them, too.

Following what many Malaysians have branded as an unexpected decision on the part of Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan to abdicate his throne as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Conference of Rulers will convene a final meeting later this month to install a new king on January 31.

Tengku Abdullah’s highest royal elevation to be the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong is almost certainly on the cards. And history will be made as an internationally-renowned sports figure, who is well-loved by the grassroots, is set to get off the starting blocks to herald a new era for regal respectability.