AirAsia boss Tony Fernandez has described his decision to sponsor Khairy Jamaluddin’s MyTeam football project as being the “biggest mistake” of his life.
He said the move - which was meant to make some local lads’ dreams come true - “backfired” instead when it was rumoured that Khairy, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s son-in-law, owned a stake in AirAsia.
“The biggest mistake of my life, and to be fair to this guy, (was when) Khairy Jamaluddin’s team came to propose sponsoring the MyTeam (football project).
“How fantastic - taking guys from the rubber estates, from kampungs, from new villages - to London to play Manchester United. This airline is all about making dreams come true. We’ve also sponsored Manchester United. How great!” said Fernandez in a 60-minute interview with Malaysiakini last Thursday in his office at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang.
“But then it backfired because suddenly, it was rumoured that Khairy and the ‘Fourth Floor’ now own 40 percent of AirAsia.”
Fernandes said he was willing to swear on whatever sacred scripture that would satisfy those who claimed that Khairy has a sizable stake in the budget carrier.
“I hate to sound like a politician, but put a Bible, Quran, whatever, in front of me and I’ll swear on it and say no! I only did the MyTeam thing with him.”
According to Fernandes, the blogosphere where the rumours have originated is become “sick and twisted”.
‘I’ve tried to engage bloggers’
The AirAsia’s 46-year-old chief executive argued that had he enjoyed close links with Abdullah and Khairy, the airline would not have lost several lucrative contracts to MAS.
He cited the deal to transport Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and the arrangement with the Defence Ministry to transport soldiers between East Malaysia and Peninsular Malaysia.
“Under DRB-Hicom, we had the haj contract, which was very valuable to us, and I did it for two years. MAS took that away (in 2003). They undercut us, we couldn’t match it, and it was gone. But that’s fair competition. No complaints. But you say I’m a crony? If so, I should have been able, with all my powerful friends, to keep the haj contract.
“The Ministry of Defence contract, we did it for seven years and gave fantastic service to the army. Look who’s minister of defence (PM Abdullah) now. Yet, we lost 50 percent of the defence contract to MAS,” said Fernandes.
He blamed a “vicious” community of bloggers for failing to appraise his company objectively.
“It’s guilt by association. I’m ‘collateral damage’, aren’t I?” he said. “There’s just a vicious community of bloggers out there who just spout hate. I’ve tried to engage them. I’ve even invited them here.”
However, if there’s one positive outcome from the personal attacks, it is the motivation for Fernandez to prove his detractors wrong.
“They’re willing to bash me and use racial slurs. There’s one good thing, though, and that’s they’ve called me fat. So now I’m motivated to be thin! When I read the blogs, I see, ‘Hey Fatso!’ But I’m going to show you I can be thin!” said Fernandes, laughing.