KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's Youth and Sports Minister - and now SEA Games athlete - Khairy Jamaluddin said he will let the country's "sports association answer" a challenge from the Johor crown prince for a match to determine who is actually qualified for the national polo team.
The call came after it was announced last week that Khairy would be representing Malaysia in the sport at the regional games in August - a first for a sports minister.
"On any related matters to do with sports, let the sports association answer," Khairy said on Thursday (Jul 13).
On Monday, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim - a skilled player himself - called for a match so "the nation (can) decide for themselves the individuals qualified to represent the country".
"In my opinion, let's stop all speculations on this issue by having a polo match between the selected SEA Games polo squad and the Royal Johor Polo Club team, consisting of my brother, two of our players as well as myself," he wrote.
"I also recommend that this match to be shown on live TV and watched by the entire nation. Let's leave it to the nation to decide for themselves the individuals qualified to represent the country."
The prince is also believed to have slammed Khairy's involvement in a previous Facebook post.
"(Malaysia) has become a place where politicians are wanting to be celebrities and sportsmen. Where a person who can't ride a horse or play polo can be selected to represent the country," he said. "Where individuals who don't even go for proper military training can become a general."
Khairy was made a Brigadier General last October.
In response, national polo team manager Mohamad Zekri Ibrahim told the news agency Bernama that Khairy had been involved in the sport prior to becoming a minister.
"He had played twice in the Malaysian Open and we noticed that his fitness and performance level enabled him to be in the team for the SEA Games this time," he was quoted as saying.
"Khairy's participation with his strong and disciplined character will boost the national polo team's morale and spirit in the games."
According to Free Malaysia Today, Zekri had said Tunku Ismail was not selected for the team himself as "his high handicap would nudge the national team’s combined competition handicap above the limit of handicap 5-8 set for the Games".
“If I am not mistaken, the Tunku has a handicap-3, which is among the highest for a polo player in Malaysia,” he told FMT.
“The Tunku is skillful in dribbling and ball control. He has formidable exposure overseas where he competed many times at international level. Similarly, the Pahang and Perak royal families are also great polo players.”
Meanwhile, Khairy said he will be joining the team - who are in the final phase of training - on an "on and off" basis.
"Time management is going to be important for everyone, not just for me, and we're all 24/7," he said when asked about the twin responsibilities of running the Games and representing his country.
The last time polo was part of the regional games was in 2007, when Malaysia won the gold.
"The polo team is working hard; everyone is working hard to deliver on their respective targets," the minister said when asked if his team could come out tops again.
Khairy was speaking after the digital launch of the Games where he unveiled the official app, social media platforms and brand video for the event.
The minister has urged the public to buy tickets for the games fast as events are either sold out or selling out.