KUALA LUMPUR: When is the right time for a leader to step down?
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ignored the wishes of his people. In the end, Mubarak – in power since 1981 – resigned on Feb 11 after nearly three weeks of bloody anti-government protests.
Now, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi looks set to face the same fate – having been in power for 40 years.
A few other long-serving leaders in the Middle East are set to bite the dust as well.
The same has happened to some of our political leaders who “overstayed” their welcome.
This phenomena is not isolated to politics only. It is also the norm in Malaysian sports, where the bulk of the leaders have been around for the longest time.
Some even playfully call themselves “old dinosaurs”.
Take Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Congress (MTBC) president Datuk Dr P.S. Nathan for example. He has been in power for 37 years – the longest among all the National Sports Association (NSA) leaders.
And there is no sign of him quitting any time soon.
Some, like Malaysian Gymnastics Federation (MGF) president Datuk Dr Zakaria Ahmad, Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Sultan Ahmad Shah and Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) president Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar are still holding power after more than two decades.
There may be no uprising nor uproar among the people against these leaders but the recent incidents around the world have raised several questions?
Are our sports leaders guilty of overstaying or is there simply no one to take over?
To be fair, many of these leaders are passionate about their sport and have, in fact, done justice to the sport.
But, let’s face it, there are a few deadwoods still clinging on to power.
So, how long should one lead an association? Should there be a fixed term? Is there a benchmark to assess the effectiveness of these sport leaders?
OCM secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, who himself has been around for decades, says that three factors – passion, time and being truthful to oneself – determine the longevity of good leaders and not just age.
“There is no fixed formula to assess the devotion of a leader. We have an election system that provides proper check and balance. And it is all in the hands of the voters.
“Voting is not only a right but a responsibility,” said Kok Chi.
“People who elect their leaders again and again either trust the candidates or are just too lazy to find new ones.
“But one must remember too that bringing in new and young leader does not guarantee success. They can undo all the good work done by their predecessor.
“We must treasure good people, immaterial of their age.
“A leader – young or old – should come in with the mindset of serving and not ruling.
“He or she should think of ways to help the people who voted for him, to be better.
“When one stands for election, it should not be about power and glamour.
“It should be about wanting to make the organisation better than before.”
Kok Chi also called on the long-serving leaders to be truthful and to know when the time is right to call it quits.
“A leader should know whether he has done well. Their contribution can be measured. Their hard work will show in the quality and quantity of athletes produced during their tenure,” he said.
“Have the number of athletes increased and have they done better in the SEA Games or other major events?”
Kok Chi also lamented the fact that some leaders were taking on too many roles.
“They are not only the president of their association, but they also hold another post at the international level. They forget their roots and focus on global affairs,” he said.
“Due to time constraints, they are unable to fully focus on improving the standards of their athletes.
“It is better to do little and do it well.”
Kok Chi admitted that many leaders also stayed in power due to the lucrative perks that come with the post.
“I admit that there are handsome perks for those holding posts in local and international organisations.
“They travel in business class and receive hefty allowances. Some get carried away and forget all the promises they had made when they stood for election.”
Kok Chi hoped that all sports associations would draw up proper succession plans so that when their leaders – whether long-serving or short-term appointments – decide to leave, the members will be wise enough to pick capable replacements.
MGF secretary N. Shamugarajah and National Shooting Association of Malaysia (NSAM) executive secretary Jasni Shaari – two men who have been involved in their respective sports for more than three decades – however, argued that it had not been easy to find new blood.
“The changing of the guard is not an easy task. In shooting, no one wants to come to the fore because of the technicalities involved in the sport.
“It is so difficult to find good people who are really devoted and can contribute to the sport,” said Jasni.
“I took over the post (of executive secretary) from Ong Hoon Chin in 2004.
“Two hours before he died, and lying on a hospital bed, he was asking me whether I had looked into some letters regarding a competition that we were planning to host. I can never forget his dedication to the sport.”
Said Shanmugarajah: “I would always tell my friends that I could have made millions of ringgit if I had become an Amway distributor instead of becoming a sports official in 1980.
“Money is not the motivating factor for me ... it is the love for sport. Now, we are short of volunteers and youngsters do not want to serve in associations because it does not pay well.”
Maybe money may not be the motivating factor for Shanmugarajah and Jasni. But for some, the love of the lucrative perks that come with leading sports associations has derailed them from their real mission – raising the standard of the sport.
These leaders should be truthful to themselves and leave.
Just look at what happened to Mubarak, and what is about to happen to Gaddafi.