ON the night when Indonesia defeated Thailand to win their first football gold in 32 years, my chatbox with media friends was suddenly busy.
Trang from Vietnam congratulated my Indonesian friend Wina and was singing praises over her country’s stunning victory despite the brawl, controversy and all.
Wina, in turn, applauded Vietnam for their runaway success as the overall SEA Games champions with 136 gold medals.
I shared their sentiments but stayed silent about Malaysia. What was there to shout about?
Vietnam, once minnows in the region, have won 102 more gold medals than Malaysia. Our football team were among the first to be sent packing home.
Badminton, our mainstay, failed to win even one gold. It revealed the lack of depth in the back-up or junior teams.
Indonesia and Thailand too had fielded weakened teams as their top players were, like Malaysia, involved in the ongoing Sudirman Cup. That did not stop them from winning five golds and two respectively.
Swimming’s lack of depth in talent was cruelly exposed while athletics continued to lag behind regional rivals, with a meagre five golds out of a targeted 10.
Two of the winners – Umar Osman (men’s 400m) and Shereen Samson Vallabouy (women’s 400m) – do not train under the national programme in Bukit Jalil.
Umar is part of a decentralised programme in Johor while Shereen is based in the United States.
To be fair, there were others who gave us reason to smile as they stepped up and unleashed their potential. Two 15-year-olds did well – Ng Jing Xuen in golf and Lee Yiat Qing in diving.
Diving, especially, deserves a special mention, as they were represented by second-liners and still made a clean sweep of all four gold medals.
The statistics show that sports like karate, taekwondo, pencak silat and cycling (road race) did their part to elevate the medal tally. There were quite a number of close calls and silvers too.
Of course, this being the SEA Games where the hosts can manipulate the events, several sports that Malaysia are good at were not included.
Still, the most important statistic of all is that Malaysia won only 34 gold medals, well short of the 40-gold target.
The athletes are taking the brunt of it. But is it their fault?
Some associations are being blamed for setting unrealistic targets while some are pointing fingers at the Olympic Council of Malaysia, National Sports Council and Youth and Sports Ministry for not doing their homework in goal-setting.
Some heads have rolled, and more are expected to be on the chopping block.
The thing is, where do we go from here? After all the blame-game, are we going to do the same thing all over again or are we going to find solutions?
Our Sports Development Act 1997 is almost archaic. Many of our sports leaders were already in position when it was passed; and they are still there.
Are our elite coaches going to every state, looking for talents or are they just sitting comfortably while directing others to do the work.
Thailand’s sprinting head coach Supanat Ariyamongkol’s formula to success is simple – scout talents. He skips major tournaments to go to schools to identify future gems. And it has worked wonders.
“A good coach knows the difference between the jade and the diamond,” said the former Asian Games gold medal winner.
We can’t just send a few “jades” and expect them to deliver. They have to be polished and refined.
And we need realistic targets. It’s easy to shoot off our mouths about lofty targets. The difficult part is quietly doing the hard work.
For the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, from Sept 23 to Oct 8, we need to be reasonable with our goals. It must be attainable. We could set a minimum target and a maximum one – one of them should be realistic, the other being what we hope to achieve if everything goes right.
We cannot send an inexperienced team and expect 10 golds.
We need the right focus. We need funding. We need to prioritise. We need to make decisions without fear or favour.
We need to talk less, and do more.
And I will take my own advice. Until our athletes can shine in international tournaments, I will continue to be silent in that chat group.