Sports leaders should give athletes some breathing space

CHANGE is inevitable. But change takes time.

In the past week, two sports leaders have been pushed to the brink by their frustration over their athletes. Both have barely been in office for more than a year.

Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim first dropped a bombshell by resigning as Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president, on Facebook no less.

In a statement posted on FAM’s Facebook page last week, he said he considered the national team’s drop in the world ranking from 175 to 178 as a failure.

Tunku Ismail has brought in many changes and improvements since assuming the FAM post on March 25 last year.

Then, there is Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria. He gave an ultimatum to his players after their failure to produce good results at last week’s All-England in Birmingham.

Three months to buck up or out you go, he warned.

Norza too has been gung-ho in the way he has brought in changes to make BAM a robust body since he was elected on April 29 last year.

The two leaders’ frustrations are understandable.

Their passion for the sport and their eagerness to see transformation is well-known.

But champions are not made overnight.

The hardest part about it is the mind-set – not only of the players but that of the stakeholders at every level.

It’s at the early stage that resistance is at its height, where seat-warmers refuse to budge and criticism fly like fiery darts.

Good leaders, though, need to bite the bullet, stick around and show the right way.

Various parties have pleaded for the Tunku Ismail to reconsider his decision.

I have no answers to the woes of our football team – almost no one in the country seems to know what to do with our football – but I believe that with the right and committed leadership like that of Tunku Ismail, we can inch our way forward to fight with pride, passion and sincerity, just like the good old days.

As for the BAM supremo, I reckon Norza needs to chill and stop ruffling the feathers again and again. (The feathers he ruffled last year have still not landed on the ground!)

Just take a look at this one good example – Malaysia’s top two men pairs Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong and Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi were split in September.

Four months later, they were brought back together.

First, their coach was Jeremy Gan. Then, it was Cheah Soon Kit. Then, Rosman Razak came into the picture, now he is out, and Paulus Firman of Indonesia is joining. Now, that is change that takes time to adjust.

And we expect the boys to deliver at the All-England?

To be fair, the players tried. Both pairs gave a good fight against higher-ranked opponents in England. Their best efforts only earned them a tongue-lashing.

When Morten Frost left the scene, Norza was briefed on the importance of having a coaching director but the BAM felt that their five head-coach system was just fine.

For a hydra, yes. For a badminton organisation, it may not be a good idea.

Maybe, it’s time for Norza to revisit the idea of bringing back a full-time badminton supremo to hold the team together.

But the BAM do not need a monster from another country to destroy what has already been started.

A former local great can probably do an equally good – or even better – job.

Former internationals such as Wong Choong Hann, Lee Wan Wah or the Sidek brothers Jalani and Razif are available.

Give them the trust and paycheques that equal that of the foreigners, and we may find the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle to take our sports out of the doldrums again.

Badminton , football , commentary