Cardiff City, a football club playing in the English Championship but based in the capital city of Wales, has rejected local sponsorship for its kit in favour of promoting a South East Asian country. Last year, Malaysian tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan became the biggest and controlling shareholder of the club when he and his business partner Datuk Chan Tien Ghee bought a 36.7% stake for over £6 million.
According to the club's CEO, Gethin Jenkins, the Bluebirds chose to turn down prospective offers from United Kingdom sponsors and preferred to identify with the national spirit of the club's Malaysian owners.
Specifically, the club said it wanted to show its bond with the 1Malaysia campaign - which promotes unity within diverse cultures in the country, along with improving football connections with the start of the 1Malaysia Cardiff City Grassroots Academy in Kuala Lumpur.
"The club had some very attractive shirt sponsorship options to link up with a number of commercial partners and brands in the UK and abroad, but after speaking with our investors and knowing the commitment from Vincent Tan and TG, we knew that the best way to highlight our affinity with Malaysia was to wear the message with pride on our kits this season," Jenkins told the club's website.
"The bond between Cardiff City FC and Malaysia will be evident throughout the season, something that has already been fully embraced by our supporters over the last twelve months and more. We are all looking forward to maximising this sponsorship and further sharing much between both countries over the coming season," he said, adding that "features and events on our ever improving links with MALAYSIA will be run over coming months, highlighting the excellent work being undertaken by our Academy in the country, plus much more."
In March Jenkins visited Malaysia with the club's academy managers,Neal Ardley (academy head), Steve Ellis (education academy) and Scott Young (community academy), for the launch of the 1Malaysia Cardiff City (1MCC) junior football U-12 league which attracted 31 teams. The U-14 league is underway from May to July followed by the U-16 challenge between September and December.
During the CCFC executives' visit, the Malaysian government indicated its support for the proposed Cardiff City Academy to be established in Kuala Lumpur. "We appreciate efforts like this. To ensure the future of the country's football, we need a more structured development programme at the grassroots level," Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said. "We will look into their requests and if they are within the government's means, we will provide them."
Mr Najib, supported by the Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek and national football coach K. Rajagobal, agreed that collaboration between Cardiff City FC, the Youth and Sports Ministry, National Sports Council and the Football Association of Malaysia, could pave the way for a 'holistic' development of football in Malaysia.
1MCC chairman Datuk Chan Tien Ghee said Cardiff City had expressed the hope that the government would provide facilities for the centre which would be headed by a former Cardiff City player, Kevin Cooper.
Cardiff City is scheduled to play its first game of the new Championship season against London-based club, West Ham United ... a rarity in the English football system having recently been returned to local ownership after a period of foreign control.