Let’s show Malaysia’s class

  • Scoreboard
  • Thursday, 25 Jun 2015

Bangkok calling: Mourinho (right) and Chelsea captain John Terry (left) giving a traditional Thai greeting to the media on their arrival in Bangkok on May 28. The Blues played Thailand’s All Stars at the 49,000-capacity Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok for a special match on May 30.

HOSTING international sporting events means major challenges, something faced by any country including Malaysia. It reflects, to a certain extent, the economic growth and stability of a nation.

When I was in Brisbane for the Asian Cup 2015, it dawned on me how Australia has become a powerhouse in churning out world champions in the pool to hockey, cricket and even the mother of all ruffian games — rugby, but also a favourite destination for international sporting events.

In January, Australia hosted tennis’ elite event — the Brisbane Open which featured Swiss and World No 2, Roger Federer, alongside Russian Maria Sharapova, ranked at World No 4. Just a week later there was the Sydney Open followed by the Australian Open Grand Slam, not forgetting 16 countries battling for the Asian Cup football tournament in several other cities.

In March, Australia played host to the ICC Cricket World Cup. All in there were six international events held Down Under within a space of two months. What is so special about Australia?

Recently I was in Bangkok to witness EPL Champions Chelsea lock horns with Thailand All-Star at the Rajamangala Stadium with an estimated 45,000 fans turning up well before the 6pm deadline for the gates to open to catch Jose Mourinho and top class players take on Kiatisuk Senamuang’s side. The match was organised by ProEvents International — Asia’s renowned football promoters. The EPL trophy was also on display at the stadium.

Hotels in the city were fully booked while hours earlier close to 3,000 fans had thronged the official hotel where the team was staying, hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols. Liverpool FC will also take this wonderful journey to Bangkok in July. Now, what is so special about Bangkok too?

The story, however, is not all about Australia and Thailand. For the past 20 years, Malaysians too have witnessed exciting international sporting events such as motor racing’s Formula One, World Cup of Golf featuring Tiger Woods, Commonwealth Games to EPL teams Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool making their way here.

But 2015, so far, seems to be a subdued year for Malaysians. Apart from the F1, Tour de Langkawi, golf tournaments, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur FC’s 2-1 win over a Malaysian Selection on May 27 at the Shah Alam Stadium and Liverpool impending tour of Kuala Lumpur next month, there is nothing much to look ahead in coming months.

The Malaysian Government designated 2011 as the “Year of Sports Industry”, and the Sports Minister then had defined its scope, which includes exploring the possibility of hosting major international sporting events.

An extraordinary sports conference was held soon after that but nothing much had come out of it. As always, we are known to organise conferences and seminars but we never see the daylight of a finish product.

Sports tourism is a money-making business that spins the wheel into motion by giving Malaysians from all walks of life an opportunity to earn a living.

Former youth and sports minister Datuk Seri Shabery Cheek was quoted as saying that the 2011 Liverpool FC, Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC tours to Malaysia generated USD60mil (RM210mil) in revenue. The tourism ecosystem in the country thrives not only on our diverse cultures, but our ability to give the best possible services to domestic and international tourists.

It contributes tremendously towards the economy as travelling fans give an impeccable boost to airline companies bank balances, hotels, shopping malls, eateries and even all those small stalls surrounding the Bukit Jalil and Shah Alam Stadiums, not forgetting the keropok lekor seller, to gain profits.

But are we really doing enough? Have we maximised Malaysia’s potential as an international sporting venue and host?

The country’s tourism industry continues to grow at a rapid pace, with 27.4 million tourists arriving last year.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, speaking to more than 1,000 tourism industry players at a dinner function recently, said if this trend continued, Malaysia was on track to achieve its target of 36 million tourist arrival by 2020.

When will we see more international events such as rugby 7s, cricket’s version of the Indian Professional League (IPL) or another WWE on show after a successful event by Astro in 2014?

Just before the new Singapore Stadium was completed, the stadium owners invited more than 80 event companies for a grand tour of the stadium and its facilities. They hosted a grand lunch and briefed all present on the tax system and benefits of hosting international events in Singapore.

Basically, they pitched to the event companies that Singapore should be a hub for sporting events, especially looking at the way they organised the Singapore F1. The tiny island nation with a population of 5.47 million will host the Barclays Asia Trophy from July 12 to 18, which will feature Arsenal, Everton, Stoke City and Singapore All-Star team. One week of football party.

It only goes to show that Malaysian companies will now have to work harder to compete not only against Thailand but our immediate neighbour’s down south. The Kallang Stadium, famous for its “Kallang Roar” in the 1980s during the Malaysia Cup tournament, has been given a facelift to meet the appetite of international event organisers.

We also need the Government offering better deals for event organisers. We need new tax bracket and incentives to event organisers who will be “motivated enough” in bringing world-class events to our shores. We need to revamp the wheel of motion and look into new areas and new governance that will help to offer better deals for world class events.

I strongly suggest the Sports Industry Committee be revamped to assist young entrepreneurs. We need strategic thinking partners who look at sports tourism and sports commercialisation from a point of enhancing our country’s image and contributing towards economic growth.

If we don’t do anything about this, thinking that all is in order, we can be rest assured that Malaysia will start in last position on the grid when it comes to bidding for international events.

  • Christopher Raj is the CEO of ShekhinahPR, a sports public relations agency. He has spent close to 20 years working in various sports portfolios, including the Football Association of Malaysia and the Asian Football Confederation, as well as a number of years as a journalist. Chris’ twitter account is @chrisraj23

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