Hannah makes her strides, but higher hurdles lie ahead

IN our first one-on-one meeting in late March this year, soft-spoken Hannah Yeoh had shared her aspirations for Malaysian sports.

Just 100 days into her new role as the Youth and Sports Minister then, she had hit the ground running, meeting a number of key sports figures, athletes, and laid down some “foundational work”.

She spoke excitedly about plans and changes that she wanted to do but kept emphasising on the limited time she had to execute everything. (We all know how fragile the political situation can be!).

Honestly, I thought she would be burnt out by end of the year - either by sheer exhaustion or crushed by the never-ending criticism.

Surprisingly, she is still standing tall, strong and fired up.

Despite spending much of her time putting out fires and navigating red tape, Hannah has done considerably well for a new kid on the sports block.

On Sunday, the ministry released all their achievements under Hannah’s leadership over the last year.

“Today (Dec 3) is exactly a year since I was sworn in as the Minister of Youth and Sports. Worked as though every day was my last day in Putrajaya,” she posted on her Facebook.

“(It has been) 365 days of sprinting, working on reforms that will change the ecosystem for our stakeholders. It takes a solid team of civil servants in KBSMalaysia (sports ministry), hungry enough for the same positive change to make things happen.”

According to the reports, there have been 22 reforms until September with more in the pipeline.

The sports ecosystem has been reformed, with martial arts reclassified in school as sports, increasing the number of recognised sports from 51 to 103 and making escorts mandatory for para athletes. All these have won praise.

The deplorable sports facilities have also gained her attention.

Being the hands-on person she is, Hannah has seen for herself the deteriorating condition of sports facilities at both grassroots and national level and her ministry has channeled money into sprucing up facilities.

But it is far from enough. That is why a few committees have been formed to look into internal disputes, safety and welfare of athletes.

It won’t be wrong to say that she is one of the athletes’ favourite ministers.

Many former athletes like Datuk Lee Chong Wei, Datuk Nicol David, Datuk Shalin Zulkifli and current athlete Datuk Azizulhasni Awang are all in some way involved in sports decision-making processes. After all, who knows better than the athletes themselves?

Hannah is closely connected with young athletes via social media platforms, regularly keeping the sports fraternity informed of all events, forcing all “dinosaurs”, including this writer, to do some catching up.

But it has not been all fine and dandy.

There have been some poor calls too and rather naive statements like the one about sprinter Azeem Fahmi having the potential to win a gold at the next year’s Paris Olympic Games. In actual fact, even qualifying for the later rounds would be a huge feat.

She may need some help in choosing the right people to lead. The appointment of actor Hans Isaac as Stadium Board chairman has not gone down well, and the current state of the pitch at the National Stadium - no thanks to the Coldplay concert - has not helped.

She needs to set some things right and be focused on what she wants.

But, one thing is certain, Hannah has her heart in the right place. She is humble enough to know her mistakes, correct them, and find the right solutions.

She knows the one-year honeymoon is over and the work only get harder from here on.

There are still many deep-set issues like a lack of financial transparency in sports associations, selection of poor leaders, redundancy in sports and wastage, shortage of talent and lack of fair play - and that’s only the short list.

The late Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, then the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary, once said: “Sports has become big bucks industry, watch out for the vultures.”

So Madam Minister, do watch out. The second year will be more challenging.

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