THE 14th edition of the Malaysia Games, better known as Sukma, in Kuala Lumpur ended last Sunday after 11 days of action.
A total of 3,368 athletes took part in 19 non-Olympic sports for the first time ever.
Sukma began as a biennial event in 1986 featuring only Olympic sports, although some high-profile sports like bowling, squash and karate among others were also contested.
The idea to hold the Games in Kuala Lumpur in alternate years was to complement the Sukma held by the various states who, more often than not, faced difficulties in staging certain optional sports.
Critics had described the hosting of the Sukma annually as a waste of taxpayers’ money, saying that certain sports in the recent Sukma should not have even made it into the 11-day event.
While the National Sports Council (NSC) had only RM9mil to spend on the recent Sukma, the states, on the other hand, would spend somewhere between RM30mil and RM50mil on the Games.
And let’s not forget that most of the venues end up becoming white elephants after each Games.
States usually argued that a lot of money needed to be pumped in to repair and upgrade the facilities if they wanted to host the Sukma.
But aren’t they supposed to maintain the facilities all year round?
With so much money at stake, chances are that unscrupulous contractors are just waiting to pounce on state tenders before delivering sub-standard and shoddy work.
The recent Sukma was indeed well-organised despite being run on a minimum budget.
The venues, with little refurbishments, were more than what was required to stage the Games.
As for publicity, pay television operator Astro aired live coverage with daily round-ups while some sports even ended up as news items on the radio.
And let’s not forget the coverage given by the print media.
In contrast, the 2008 Sukma in Terengganu and 2010 in Malacca were overshadowed by the European football championship and the World Cup respectively.
The most important aspect about the Sukma is the participation of athletes.
Sukma is, for the most part, the highest level for athletes below the age of 21 to strut their stuff.
Although some sports do have their own national championships, winning a gold medal in Sukma gives the athletes a different sense of pride. It’s about bringing glory and honour to their states.
Many are cautious every time the government introduces a programme, and I am no different.
In fact, I was initially sceptical that the running of the recent Sukma would do any good to sport.
But after 11 days on the ground covering the event and watching the athletes’ faces glow with joy every time they win a medal, I then began to understand why the Sukma is so important to them.
And I also started to understand that the Sukma is much more important to them, the athletes, than to the organisers.
Sport in our country is in dire straits simply because we are not producing enough talents of world class stature despite having world class facilities.
Yes, we do have a few world class athletes in our midst, but they are a rare species indeed.
And if we kill off the Sukma, then we might as well not talk about local sports at all.
Sukma is an avenue for athletes to compete and any competition is good for the athletes, who’d then be training without purpose.
And kudos to Terengganu for becoming the overall Sukma champions for the third time running.
They must be doing something right in the area of developing athletes that they have been able to put the more developed states to shame.