Country needs a major revamp, starting in classrooms to bring back our sporting glory

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  • Friday, 18 Sep 2015

THE past few months have indeed been challenging for many of us in this beloved land we call Malaysia.

Cost of living has gone up, politicians from both sides of the divide are doing their utmost best to dissect the very fabrics of peace, harmony and love thy neighbor, the ringgit weakened to a 17-year low against the green back and falling oil prices worsened Malaysia’s export outlook.

If that is not enough to sink us into deeper waters, the worsening of the haze situation in the country in recent days has further “choked” us.

But let’s put politics, the declining value of the ringgit and our poor Air Pollutant Index aside for now and peek into our “Disturbing Sports Pollutant Index”.

The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) has made headlines for the pathetic performance of our highly paid footballers for the 10-0 thrashing by United Arab Emirates in the 2018 World Cup qualifying second round Asian Zone Group A match at the Mohamed Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

FAM president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and head coach Dollah Salleh received all the brick bats for the cowardly act by our national footballers against UAE and had called for their resignation while the players themselves who are the real culprits are spared the rod.

Dollah’s resignation as national coach was indeed a noble move on his part for taking full responsibility but sadly none of these players who had shamed the dignity of our nation were remorseful. If they had any shame, they should have hung their boots and worked in rice paddy fields instead!

The average salary of these players who played against UAE is RM70,500 a month! I don’t envy them for their high salary with the various clubs in the Malaysian Football League but the fact that they were let off the hook for the deep insult against UAE is tantamount to selective prosecution by the media and those clamouring for the betterment of Malaysian football.

Instead of “executing a cohesive move” in disrupting the match against Saudi Arabia at the Shah Alam Stadium which care-taker coach Ong Kim Swee was doing his utmost best in rebuilding Malaysia’s fallen image, why not take a swipe at the players as well as are they not the ones responsible for this fiasco?

On many occasions when the national team failed in its mission, it was always the FAM president and match officials who were put in the line of fire while the players went into hiding until all was forgotten. Now that’s Malaysian culture!

While I believe leadership is all about practising accountability and democracy, that explains wholeheartedly the heavy price Tengku Abdullah will have to pay when only four council members supported his plans of hiring Frenchman Philip Troussier as national coach at its executive meeting while the rest backed off and instead gloated at Dollah’s appointment. We saw the outcome of the results. Sigh!

However, let’s not forget that credit must be given where it is due.

It was Tengku Abdullah who negotiated the commercial deal with MP & Silva, which will see FAM receiving RM85mil a year for the next 15 years and was also instrumental in the Telekom Malaysia sponsorship deal worth RM18mil a year.

The president will vacate his chair in six months time but will leave FAM in a very strong financial position, not forgetting the RM75mil stashed in fixed deposit. Just how will FAM spend all this money? Only time will tell.

The root of our sports ills is in the schools. It is supposed to be the base in producing champions but sadly, nothing of this will happen unless the Malaysian Schools Sports Council, which comes under the purview of the Sports Division in the Education Ministry, takes bold steps in restructuring their policies.

In a recent school’s athletics championships, only four runners were involved in the 800m race while there were no candidates in long distance. That is totally unbelievable! In football, the inter-schools matches are completed within one week and the same goes to hockey and badminton. Just how did we ever dream of unearthing another Mokhtar Dahari, Datuk Lee Chong Wei and Datuk Nicol David with such a poor structure at school level?

The truth is, Malaysia will never see another Chong Wei, Nicol, Mokhtar or football goalkeeper R. Arumugam until the next millennium because the sports system in schools has failed tremendously.

I remember almost one year ago when I was invited to a talk show. We spoke about the same issue and I questioned the initiative of the Education Ministry for a nation-wide school programme called “1 Murid 1 Sukan”.

Someone from the ministry who was unhappy with my views called and gave me a dressing down for raising the topic!

Today, I wonder what has happened to the “1 Murid 1 Sukan” programme and how much has it benefitted the country since its implementation. Where did the RM100mil allocation go?

Another most astonishing moment I witnessed was during my morning runs in my neighbourhood. Just as I passed through a local school, I saw a male teacher who was holding perhaps the day’s newspaper and loooking elegant in his tie and long-sleeved shirt, he screamed at the top of his voice, “Lari, pass the ball, hey bodoh!” at a group of students.

Now, with this kind of teachers in schools, it explains why the quality of Malaysian sports are in the doldrums and how we can never qualify for the World Cup.

There is a lot we can learn from our neighbouring countries and one such nation is Myanmar. With a 10-year development plan behind them and with dreams of competing in the World Cup one day, Myanmar followed this development plan with so much passion and saw the results bearing fruit. In June this year, Myanmar qualified for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand on merit.

Having graduated from the La Salle education system, we had the best teachers and physical trainers who worked on our football skills from January to October and played competitive matches. Today, football is played only in the schools calendar from March to May. The rest of the months are focused on academic and other co-curriculum activities.

There is a growing call to revamp sports in all schools with fresh ideas to train and develop athletes.

Too much emphasis is put on sports schools to churn out our future champions but have not been successful.

A clear example is Mohd Arif Abdul Latif, who once defeated China’s Chen Long in the Asian Junior Badminton Championships in 2007 in Kuala Lumpur. Today, Chen Long is a world champion while Arif seems to have vanished into thin air.

In Queensland, every school has a swimming pool and a simple formula. Former world champions and Olympic champions are invited to train these youngsters. As the saying goes, “Success breeds success”.

But there’s still hope for football. While the selfish state football associations are only interested in minting profits from expensive investments, the National Football Development Plan (NFDP) under the supervision of Lim Teong Kim aim to turn things around in the long run.

NFDP signed a long-term youth development programme with Queen Park Rangers recently.

In a multiracial society as ours, sports is also an all-important factor in unifying Malaysians, whether you are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban or Punjabi. In a team game like football or hockey, it enjoys the participation of all races.

#WeAreMalaysians, Selamat Hari Malaysia.

Christopher Raj is chief executive officer 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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