Malaysia defends tourism role for 'biting' footballer Suarez

Malaysia's Tourism Minister has defended the deal to bring in Barcelona striker Luis Suarez (pictured) to promote Malaysia as a tourist destination. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia on Thursday (Nov 30) defended striking a deal with Barcelona footballer Luis Suarez to help boost tourism after an opposition MP criticised the move to sign up a player notorious for biting his rivals.

Government agency Tourism Malaysia inked the one-year deal in early November, hoping that using the Uruguayan in its marketing campaigns would attract more visitors to the tropical country.

While the striker is recognised as one of the world's best players, he has also been the subject of controversy for sinking his teeth into rivals.

He was suspended from all football-related activity for four months after biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during the 2014 World Cup. He also faced bans in 2010 and 2013 for biting players.

Lawmaker Hee Loy Sian from the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat on Thursday asked Tourism Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz in Parliament why the decision had been taken given Mr Suarez's controversial track record.

He later told AFP he had no problem with using foreign players to promote Malaysia but the Uruguayan was not the right choice.

"We have a lot of better candidates," he said.

But Datuk Seri Nazri defended the decision, saying Mr Suarez's huge following on social media meant he would be able to attract more foreign visitors to Malaysia.

"If he is that bad, he would not have 25.3 million followers on Instagram - if he is bad, people won't follow him," he told Parliament.

Malaysia is seeking to attract more foreign visitors, particularly from China. Last year almost 27 million tourists visited the country which is home to palm-fringed beaches and jungles.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.