PETALING JAYA: Malaysian sports received a shot in the arm when the government decided to fund eight sports to achieve excellence at the world stage. But with the huge commitment comes great expectations.
And the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi hoped the national sport associations (NSA) would not make promises they could not keep – or set targets they could not meet.
The eight sports identified to receive the funding are athletics, aquatics, gymnastics, football, hockey, bowling, squash and badminton.
Since the special aid, mooted by Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said and announced by Cabinet Committee chairman Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak two weeks ago, the NSAs have been busy planning and drafting their future programmes, with many focusing on development programmes, better remuneration package for their athletes and better training and coaching facilities.
There will be meetings soon with each of these sports to finalise the funding – how much will be given to the NSAs and what is expected from them in return.
Kok Chi said the government funds could go to waste if the NSAs do not spend it wisely.
“The associations must be prepared to be bring better results with the money. But they must not make empty promises. The programmes must be clear and realistic too,” said Kok Chi.
“The associations should be grateful for the effort put in by the government. But the government can get over-enthusiastic. Money does not automatically buy success. It is how the money is used.
Despite the forthcoming “big bucks”, Kok Chi said it would take a while for the sports – especially athletics, aquatics and gymnastics - to make an impact at the world level.
“These three are basics sports and that’s why they were included in the first place. The main concern should be in getting more youngsters to participate and increase the pool of players at the lower level. I am glad some are already working towards this,” said Kok Chi.
“For athletics in our country, this is only the start of a long, grinding journey. They have to start from scratch.
“In fact, I will not be shocked if they are not impressive at the Doha Asiad. It will be also hard to make a mark at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne (in March) or the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
“They may make an impact after the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. Now, let's start getting these sports popular again.”
If there is another sport that's really in the doldrums, it's football. Football, Kok Chi said, was included under the special aid programme because of its popularity.
And the focus now should be taking Malaysian football out of the deep slump it has gone into.
“The structure is already there for football. They have good tournaments. The funding now must help them to move forward. They should concentrate on coaching and national team,” said Kok Chi.
“The FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) should not fear that the government plan to take over with this money.”
Malaysia were once among the top three Asian countries in hockey along with India and Pakistan.
But now, they are facing difficulty to even keep up with three others - South Korea, Japan and China.
Kok Chi felt hockey had gone off the track.
“They have a structure but it must benefit them. There is no point having junior and senior leagues when the participation of the players dwindles by the year,” he said.
As for squash and bowling, Kok Chi agreed that it was fair of the government to extend funding to them although they were non-Olympic sports.
“After all, our players in these two sports have been winning at the world stage. But they cannot rest on their laurels.
Of the eight, badminton remains the best bet for Malaysia to win medals at the Olympic Games.
But Kok Chi felt that the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) should not spend too much money on hiring many full-time officials.
“The programme should not add additional cost to the government. Sports is not about money-making.
“The association should promote volunteerism. It is also better to get a part-time official, who can do a full-time job rather than hiring ineffective full-time officials,” added Kok Chi.
Echoing a statement made by the Malaysian Gymnastics Federation (MGF) secretary N. Shanmugarajah, Kok Chi said that the people involved in the Malaysian sports should also change their attitude to ensure success in sports.
“There has been a lot of back-biting and infighting in the associations. Now, with the funding, there has to be transparency and openness,” said Kok Chi.
And like Kok Chi said, honesty. If associations make promises they cannot keep, there will be no shot in the arm. They could well be shooting themselves in the foot.