Stoking the lost passion


Right attitude also crucial for a revival in sport

In the West, sportsmen can aspire to be millionaires; celebrities who share the limelight with royals and Hollywood's best. But to get there, one has to start from the bottom, with a proper grassroots programme. In Malaysia, though, sport is fast going from big drawcard to just a lucky draw. STARSPORT'S RAJES PAUL, who was in the US recently, draws a comparison.  

IN China, they examine babies, decide what they could excel in and give them training in that particular sport. In the United States, they look at bone structure to determine the best sport for certain children and guide them along. 

In Malaysia, though, it's largely a lucky draw. If you make it, you do. If you choose the wrong sport and fail, it's frustration and heartache. And that's not counting the Obstacle like biased officials who try to undermine each other's athletes, cronyism and more such problems. 

There is, for instance, the case of Perlis-lad Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin Tengku Abdul Aziz.  

Discarded as a hopeless case by his football coach, he was fortunate enough to have found his calling in hockey. Many others would have been disheartened and given up, resulting in a loss for Malaysian sport. 

Given these problems, the pool of athletes to pick from is small and it's no wonder then that the same old athletes are around for a long time, with the same old results and same old excuses when faced with failure.  

Watson Nyambek, at 27, and Azmi Ibrahim, 26, are still among the best 100m runners around although they have been national athletes for almost a decade. 

The problem, it has been identified, is the lack of a grassroots programmes and a proper sports culture.  

Now, the call has risen for the right attitudes to be promoted, for the passion to be stoked. 

It may be a little unfair to compare the Malaysian grassroots programme with the efforts of the American Athletics Union (AAU), a multi-sport organisation in the US, which concentrates solely on the grassroots programmes and sports for all. 

But it could be a start. 

Simply put, there is no proper system in our grassroots programmes.  

Many students do not get the opportunity to have their potential fully tested because they are not in the elite programme.  

Sometimes, teachers do not like the children's attitudes or parents believe that if they excel in sports, they will not be good in studies.  

In the US, though, sports are used as a vehicle to educate athletes and cultivate good values. Schools ensure everyone is exposed to sports while parents ensure their children are involved in sports at schools. Even parents get involved. 

There is a reason for that. Sports can instil certain qualities in athletes. In a survey of 5,000 top corporate figures, it was asked where they acquired the qualities that made them successful. Some 90% said they got it from sports. 

Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary-general Datuk Sieh Kok Chi agreed that the Malaysian grassroots have vanished along the way. 

A report submitted by Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, Malaysia's head of delegation to Iowa and Florida Tour on a Study Tour recently says that the grassroots were the foundations.  

Kok Chi said that back in the 60s and 70s, there were many clubs and people, parents and schools involved in sports, especially at grassroots level. 

“But along the way – in the 80s and 90s – we have lost these values. The grassroots have died,” said Kok Chi. 

“We have several clubs like the Pacesetters and Ikan Bilis who are promoting sport at the grassroots level but they are not many of them.” 

He listed a few reasons for it. 

“This is partly because playing fields are being taken away. People and volunteers have become disheartened. After having worked for something so long, people become hurt when their work is not recognised and obstructed. The older they get, the less passionate they become,” he said. 

“Why is that our grassroots is not working when we have the money and support from government? Is it too much of both?” 

He felt there should be more initiative and sports bodies should have the right strategy to lure students back into sports. 

“We should try to get more people involved. Parents always say their children do not have enough time but they should know that sports also means increased health, better motor skills and more safety-consciousness. 

“We (the sports bodies) have to identify our “customers” and get our market focus right. Rather than focusing only on the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) for instance, we can move to the rural areas and scout for students who do not have too many activities. 

“The focus on elite sports and sports for all should be separated. We need a broader base.”  

THE GRASSROOTS SYSTEM – A COMPARISON

MALAYSIA AND THE AMERICAN ATHLETICS UNION (AAU) 

ROLE 

Malaysia: Malaysia does not have a specific body to run grassroots programme. Currently, the respective national associations and the MSSM do their bit but their main concern is for the elite athletes. Some talent go untapped. Thesmall pool of elite athletes is not assured that they are the best in the country. 

AAU: Focus specifically on the grassroots programme. They are concerned with only massparticipation and sports for all but through a systematic approach; allow at least 2% of their best and potential athletes to move up for greater level of competition. 

AT PRE-SCHOOL LEVEL 

Malaysia: There are clubs that cater to this age group but they are scarce. There are annual/yearly fun sport activities for these children. 

AAU: There are many clubs and city councils, which use their parks and recreation areas as an avenue to promote sports for children throughout the year. Red Crescent, for example, has a swimming programme throughout US starting from this age group. 

AT PRIMARY SCHOOL/ELEMNTARY SCHOOL 

Malaysia: A student can represent the school from Standard Four onwards. In the first three years, they are allowed to play during their physical education class (which usually allows them to kick balls and play catch). Outside of school, there are not many leagues or competition that they can take part. 

AAU: Physical education coaches must be teachers in the same school. Both sports and education are emphasies. The students areencouraged to take up a variety of sports.Education of the sport is emphasised and there is less focus on skills. Sports can teach and help students become a more complete person. Besides the school programmes, there are many leagues organised by clubs and private groups. 

AT SECONDARY SCHOOL/HIGH SCHOOL 

Malaysia: There are more sports activities at this stage. There are inter-district and interschool competitions. The Malaysian Sports School Council (MSSM) have their annual competitions for all the schools. Some talented children get selected to the sports school in Bukit Jalil. But the emphasis in school is on the small number of athletes who are talented. Academic study takes first priority. 

AAU: Same system as the elementary school, using sports to achieve the education goals. The school focuses more on getting the masses involved in sports with education opportunity for all through sports. The elite and talented ones are given opportunities at Summer camps. This talented group have their competitionduring the summer camps. (85% of thefunding allocation for sports is to cater for 98% of the students in school while 15% is used for elites). 

AT COLLEGES/UNIVERSITIES 

Malaysia: There is neither great focus on sports for elite or for the mass at this level. There are inter-college and university competitions but these get lukewarm responses. The stress on academic success is tremendous and sports have become secondary. 

AAU: A student is required a minimum entry qualification to college or universities. It is easier to get in if a student has sports or share of community work. Having instilled the sports culture from the lower level, there is a greaterfocus on elites here. 85% of the allocation is for the elites programme while 15% go to other sports enthusiast. Those talented will decide here on what sports they going to specialise in and move on to a higher level. 

TRAINING SYSTEM AT ALL LEVELS 

Malaysia: Facilities only gets better and better as the level of education increases. Students at lower level do not get to experience the best in training and some have to make do with whatever they have. 

AAU: Excellent training system at all levels. There are basic facilities for students of all age, even for pre-schoolers. 

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