MALAYSIAN sports has taken a nosedive in recent years. The reason, many believe, is the poor state of affairs in our schools.
For the past 30 years, sports has taken a backseat as emphasis was placed on academic success and students’ performance in national exams like the UPSR, PMR and SPM.
Poor facilities and the lack of trained and dedicated teachers and coaches have also been blamed. Add to this the lack of a proper system to identify and nurture young sporting talent in schools and you have a recipe for disaster. Witness Malaysia’s poor performance in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Although things appear bleak, it looks like steps are finally being taken to rectify the situation. Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein’s is looking into making Physical Education an examinable subject to force everyone to take it more seriously.
The establishment of the Malaysian Sports Science Academy (MSSA), aimed at meeting the long-felt demand for more sports science specialists, is another step in the right direction.
At a seminar on sports development in held recently in conjunctionwith MSSA’s launch, many speakers blamed the current situation on the school system and the lack of a sports culture in Malaysia.
No sports culture
Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said, in her opening address Sports Development – What Needs to be Done, said that the Government is committed to the development of sports in the country especially in the eight key sports idenified, namely football, badminton, gymnastics, squash, aquatics, hockey, athletics and bowling.
The establishment of a Cabinet Committee on Sports Development headed by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is a clear signal of the government’s commitment to bringing back Malaysia’s days of glory on the sports front.
“The fact that we have 15 ministers sitting together once a month shows that we are serious about change,” she said.
Despite this, Azalina acknowledged that there is always a question mark hanging over the budget given for sports as many feel that priority should be given to health, education or housing.
However, the greatest impediment is the lack of a sports culture.
“Participating in sports and exercising is not a part of most people’s daily routine,” she said.
This concern has led to the setting up of a National Fitness Council aimed at promoting a fit and healthy population.
MSSA founding chairman Tan Sri Elyas Omar has also been appointed as a sports commissioner to regulate all sporting activities and to make sports here more professional.
Providing sportsmen with a career after sports is another challenge. The decision to award Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals with a monthly pension for life will help fill this need.
There is a growing realisation that schools are the best places for identifying and nurturing talent, and that sports science principles need to be applied right from primary school level.
“Our aim is to have at least one sports science degree holder in every school. This will help boost the sports culture in schools,” said Elyas in his address on The Role of MSSA in Sports Management and Development in Malaysia.
“It is important that young talent receive the right training if we want them to excel. At the moment, we do not have teachers who have been trained to spot and develop them,” he added.
Elyas also said that MSSA would focus on training school teachers to be coaches rather than just PE teachers.
Azalina too acknowledged that the focus must be on grassroots development.
“The best age to identify sporting talent is below 10 as children’s muscle structure is still being developed at that age and they are more adaptable.
“Parents’ mindsets too need to be changed. They must be willing to allow their children to pursue sports as a vocation.”
United States Sports Academy (USSA) chairman and chief executive officer Dr Thomas Rosandich said that things have become worse in Malaysia since he first came to the country 50 years ago to coach the national athletics team.
“High school sport is important. It’s the key to whatever you want to do. The talent is out there in schools but there is no programme and structure to support them. If you can develop sports in schools, the outlook would be good,” Dr Rosandich said.
“An important element for the success of sports in the United States at grassroots level is the sheer numbers of people involved and the strong spirit of volunteerism in schools, especially among parents. This is something that Malaysia lacks,” he added.
Najib, in his keynote address Sports and the Nation – The New Agenda, said the government recognises the unifying ability of sports.
“Sports transcend race, colour and religion. It promotes good values like hard work, determination, honesty and integrity. It’s a wonderful feeling, watching a Malaysian team being supported by a multiracial crowd.”
Najib said that there was a need to get more teachers involved in sports.
“In the old days, teachers didn’t regard it as a burden to come back in the evening. That spirit is sadly lacking today. It needs to be regenerated.”
Higher Education Ministry deputy director-general Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said said that the ministry wants to eradicate the belief that universities are graveyards for sportsmen.
“We want to retain them and continue to nurture them so as to enhance their competitiveness,” he said.
The decision to allocate 10% of a student’s overall marks to co-curriculum activities, which includes sports, for entry into public institutions of higher learning was an acknowledgement of this, he said.
Prof Hassan added that to encourage excellence at university level, universities may be earmarked to nurture high-performers in specific sports.
“We will train and motivate them. Each university will concentrate on improving itself in two to three sports,” he said in a forum on The Future of Sports in Malaysia.
Universities must also make special efforts to accommodate athletes who compete regularly. “They should hold extra classes and give them special exemptions,” Prof Hassan added.
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