Grassroots the way to go

Since its inception in 1991, SportExcel has produced many stars, including the likes of seven-time world champion Nicol David, Ong Beng Hee (both squash), bowler Shalin Zulkifli, golfer Ben Leong and cricketer Arul Suppiah.

ON Thursday night, I had the chance to watch Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar open the cap of the Queen’s baton – again.

It was the same baton used for the Queen’s Baton Relay for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Then, in August, the whole world had watched how Tunku Imran struggled to open the baton’s cap during the opening ceremony.

This time, the uncapping of the baton unfolded under a different setting, different audience – and for a different cause.

It was a charity event organised by the Malaysia and British Society to help raise fund for SportExcel – a foundation for sporting excellence in Malaysia – at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.

This time, Tunku Imran, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president, managed to open it way quicker to the delight and laughter of the distinguished guests, including several Malaysian Olympians – Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan (athletics), Nashatar Singh (athletics) and Aman Karim (hockey).

Tunku Imran, the guest speaker, even belted out three songs – which immediately added another RM8,000 to the coffers, thanks to some generous donors.

Tunku Imran is the chairman of the foundation, which is focused on sports development programmes for juniors. Since its inception in 1991, SportExcel has produced many stars, including the likes of seven-time world champion Nicol David, Ong Beng Hee (both squash), bowler Shalin Zulkifli, golfer Ben Leong and cricketer Arul Suppiah.

It’s interesting to note that, even after all these years, the foundation still puts in the extra effort to source for funds to support its development programme, which is focused on tapping the potential of athletes between the ages of 11-17 years old.

SportExcel does get some help from the government – but it isn’t enough.

Now, here’s the irony. While a foundation like SportExcel continues to work hard to bring in the money for its development programmes, we have national sports associations (NSAs) flushed with cash but doing almost nothing in terms of their grassroots programmes.

No wonder we don’t see any new stars coming through in some of the more popular sports like football, badminton and cycling – to name a few.

The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) have spent, and are still spending, so much money to bring in foreign players and revamping their league. National players are being paid absurd sum in salaries by the state FAs. And yet, the national team’s world ranking continues to slide into the abyss.

In badminton, state associations get less than RM300,000 a year from the governing body to run their programmes. The Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), instead, spend millions of ringgit on their centralised training centre. And what do they have to show for it after more than a decade? Only one player of world standard in world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei.

The national cycling body – Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) – have been suspended but the government plans to bail them out by giving them RM1.6mil so that they can pay the money owing to participants of the Le Tour de Langkawi.

There is definitely something wrong with Malaysian sports when we have long-serving presidents in certain associations who keep getting re-elected despite doing next to nothing in terms of development.

That’s how deeply rooted cronyism is in Malaysian sports, mind you.

So, how can we right the wrongs?

Tunku Imran, who is also the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) president, pointed out several factors: structural changes, change in attitude and eradicating internal politics.

But there’s one I like the best.

“We can put all the sports under the Education Ministry ... that will solve a lot of our development programme issues,” he said.

Currently, NSAs and the Sports Ministry are finding it difficult to get the participation of children in schools, so much so that the once thriving inter-school and inter-state competitions are experiencing a slow death.

Asked if new Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who is also the SportExcel patron, can make a difference as far as sports development is concerned, Tunku Imran had this to say: “He has been a follower of sports but he is new to sports management.

“The NSAs are not like government bodies, which can be controlled. Volunteers run NSAs. Funds are low.

“He has to look at the whole sports system. He has to listen too.”

Khairy has been handed a huge budget this year to revamp the Malaysian sports’ landscape.

If he knows the importance of sports development, we will know where the bulk of money will go.

The baton has been passed to Khairy – and the whole nation is watching.

The writer hopes that no official will use sports for self gain, self-promotion or for political mileage.

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