THE recent appointment of Morten Frost as Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) technical director from March, and the subsequent comments from BAM singles coach Rashid Sidek and president Tengku Mahleel Tengku Ariff make me wonder why our athletes expect so much from the government.
There are two paths to take in sports — the amateur route where you build your way up until the sports ministry steps in to take care of your needs and pats you on your back when you win; or the professional path where you look after yourself from the start and receive your rewards through winning.
The Malaysian government has been generous with our athletes and many are honoured with state and federal awards for their contributions. Some are offered well-paid positions in sports associations and bodies, and they travel the world in business class.
Our athletes are paid well. Take, for example, some of our badminton players who have become millionaires with income in the form of prize monies and revenue through deals such as endorsements and sponsorships. The government invests at least RM100,000 on each player before he joins BAM.
When they become national players, their lodging, training, competition expenses and allowances are covered by BAM.
In football, the state Football Associations (FAs) spend close to RM150,000 on each individual player before he is “promoted” to the national squad.
Once in the national squad, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) will spend close to RM1mil on the player, including his salary and allowances throughout the duration of his service.
These investments will mean nothing if our athletes do not match them in the form of admirable performances.
When will Malaysian badminton discover another Lee Chong Wei? Who will replace our Nicol David? When will our football rise above the Asian Cup or the Merdeka tournament? Will our athletics produce another Tan Sri Dr Mani Jegatheesan? When will we find another Sazali Ahmad in body building?
Surely, we all want to see our Malaysian football team playing against Germany or Spain in the World Cup. We want to go back to our glorious days of beating Japan and South Korea but are we working towards it?
Our weakness is neither the lack of funds nor support. I think we lack inner strength.
We lack the discipline that is the core element of a world-class athlete. We have cases of leading soccer players who puff a cigarette after a match. Many a time, we have read of our soccer boys going for a late-night session even while in centralised training.
Our senior athletes of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s always bicker on this point, where they point out that we had such committed Malaysian runners who travelled between Singapore and Malaya on self-paid train fares while still studying.
Every sportsman from that era talks about commitment, compassion and conviction towards their game and the nation. This is due to the inner strength and determination that they had.
We need to strengthen the inner self of every athlete with discipline as the focus. We need visionary leaders taking charge of the sports associations to chart the future of our sports management. We need a clear vision for all the 57 national sports associations, with clear deliverables and deadlines.
Through the performance of the right talent and resources to achieve the desired results, as well as proper execution of the vision by all the sports bodies, proper audits must be carried out on all the funding mechanisms.
The relevant authorities must publish the appropriate data for our national sports achievements. Recently, I had a tough time finding the answers to some basic questions on our athletes. I could not find out how many athletes made it into public universities after SPM/STPM or if they just entered the job market immediately. I also could not find out how many past national athletes continued to contribute to the development of sports in Malaysia.
This data will help give a clearer picture of the situation and should be available easily. It will help us ensure that no talents are missed out on as we strive to achieve greater heights in sports.
Sports is a sure way of achieving greatness. It is not only healthy but also brings glory, joy, unity and helps to position our nation on the right track. We need concerted efforts to make this a reality. Discipline, dedication and a deep desire for success must be embedded not only in the minds of the athletes and sports association officials but also in the hearts and minds of every Malaysian in order for a sea change to occur in our nation’s sporting excellence.
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