In sports, it’s not just about money

SOMETIME in October last year, Paul Hannam, a regular visitor to our country wrote a letter to this newspaper about his elusive search for a Malaysian football jersey.

Hannam, who hails from Kent, complained that while he could easily find jerseys of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and even England, he just could not lay his hands on the yellow Harimau jersey.

In his letter, he mentioned that he e-mailed the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) more than 100 times but did not get a response.

I sympathised with Hannam and wrote in this column back then that it was simply an issue of supply and demand. Even the roadside entrepreneur knows when a brand is hot or not.

But look at the situation today. Hardly a year has passed and now Hannam would surely have no problem getting the jersey.

With the young Malaysian team doing quite well never mind that Singapore put an end to their World Cup journey last week Malaysian fans are proud to sport our national colours.

The massive crowds that filled Bukit Jalil in recent weeks are testimony to the football mania and the vibrancy of the sports industry in general.

The three English Premier League teams that played here recently must be amazed that they can fill Bukit Jalil to almost full capacity, which is equivalent to Wembley's 90,000.

In contrast, the stadiums at Liverpool's Anfield (45,276), Arsenal's Emirates Stadium (60,361) and Chelsea's Stamford Bridge (41,841) don't even come near.

An advertisement in this newspaper on Saturday proudly declared that the sports industry in Malaysia generates RM30.2bil a year, from sports-related goods to sports medicine, facilities, media and sports tourism.

And for good measure, the main news in the sports pages that day was about a potential bid for Queens Park Rangers by AirAsia's Tan Sri Tony Fernandes.

And that's not even counting the grey economy. As one fan observed, “the real winners were the traders of souvenirs and memorabilia of the national team who made a killing with brisk sales.”

I suppose the business of sports is big business indeed.

But is money a true measure of success? In tandem with a booming sports industry that boasts of world-class facilities and excellent organisational capabilities, how do we grow world champions in sports other than squash and badminton?

Are our potential talents rewarded with too much too soon? Is enough money spent on development?

Perhaps we can learn something about rewards from the recent Women's World Cup final which saw Japan lifting the Cup for the first time by beating the United States.

In the United States, women's football is a huge national sport that is even more popular than the men's game. The men, after all, believe that football is what you play with your hands.

For the tournament, it was reported that each member of the US team would receive upwards of US$3mil (RM9mil) each in sponsorship deals, contracts and bonuses had they won.

In contrast, the only reward the Japanese manager was hoping for should the Japanese team win was a watch for each member.

Norio Sasaki, the manager, said, “It is not about money, it is about being on the pitch, being part of the World Cup. We have not talked about money. But now we have reached the final, maybe a watch; yes, a watch would be a nice thing.”

Well, the Japanese won and apart from watches, a sponsor did pay a bonus of one million yen (RM38,000) to each player for their surprise success. That's still small change compared to what the Americans had been promised.

There are many things money cannot buy. And while some may disagree with me, I do believe that money cannot buy real success. For that, you really need heart and soul.

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