Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria is wearing two hats – as the president of both the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) and the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM). Juggling two hot seats can sometimes leave one in fiery situations but this son of a school teacher is more than up for the challenge. Therefore, as the leader, he wants the OCM to be given more power to play a more prominent role and exercise good governance at all levels. He also wants to lead Malaysian badminton to its first Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020. Can Norza strike the right balance? StarSport’s RAJES PAUL queries the man who is ready to get his hands dirty to make a difference.
Q: You are called a man of many hats – how do you handle the criticism that comes with it?
A: People say I wear too many hats. I was the KLBA (Kuala Lumpur Badminton Association) president. I was the FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) treasurer. I was the NSI (National Sports Institute) chairman. But I gave all that up when I became the BAM president. Then, I won the OCM president’s post uncontested. I’m not the type who hogs positions. But many don’t understand that due to all my previous involvements and current position in BAM, I can keep my finger on the pulse and I’ve the support of the NSAs (National Sports Associations) – so I’m well-equipped to be the OCM president. I’ll continue as the BAM president until my tenure ends in 2021 as I want to guide Malaysian badminton to its first Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020. Then, it will be OCM all the way.
Q: There is double the pressure on being the OCM and BAM president. Malaysia is passionate about badminton and you will be judged by the results. What is your take on that?
A: When I took over as the BAM president (in April, 2017), I had a few ambitious plans. I set up the Academy Badminton Malaysia. I wanted our junior talents to live and breathe badminton together under one roof. I worked with the Youth and Sports Minister and the Education Ministry to ensure our talents get the best education at the academy.
It was all set to go but we had to hold it due to the change in government. I’m establishing academy by zones and we’re strengthening the leagues (BAM-Air Asia National Junior League and Purple League). I can proudly say that our administration is run by professionals. As the OCM president, I would like to see the same management style in all the other NSAs. Despite improvement in the management, facilities, incentives and perks for shuttlers, it has been a challenge to manage expectations as far as the results are concerned. We are living in nostalgic glory days.
We’re still reminiscing about the 1992 Thomas Cup victory. Yes, credit to the team for winning. The late Tan Sri Elyas Omar took over the president’s post in 1986 before they won in 1992. Then, there were only the men’s team, a few guys. Now, we have a huge squad, five events, back-to-back tournaments, and focus is also given to the mixed doubles and women shuttlers. The whole dynamics have changed and we’ve to shift our mindsets too.
Q: Do you agree that we have depended too much on Lee Chong Wei?
A: Yes, badminton has been defined by one individual over the last 10 years. When Chong Wei went into final after final, more than 100 finals, we think our badminton is good. There was no serious undertaking to look into reformation right from the feeder but that’s what we’re doing now. Our academy and states have to step up. Instead of four or five traditional feeder states, we’re looking for more. We’ve an open door policy where we encourage professional clubs to churn out talents. We continue to look into ways to strengthen our coaching and training programmes and making it lean and mean is the way forward.
I’ve always faced the media with or without results, mostly without (he laughed). I know I can’t turn things around overnight. It takes time, planning and a lot of groundwork. I visited the Melaka BA’s president and he said no other president had gone there since Khir Johari’s time. Like everyone, I’m hoping one day, some day, we will unearth someone named whatever ‘Wei’ to become our Chong Wei. It’s not easy but I will not shirk my responsibilities until my tenure ends in 2021.
Q: You have been hands-on in managing BAM – are you able to do the same as the OCM boss?
A: For a decade or so, OCM have been defined by former president Tunku Imran (Tuanku Ja’afar) and Datuk Sieh Kok Chi (former secretary). No doubt, they are exceptional characters, but I needed a collective team effort to run the show. I brought to the table my professionalism, knowledge, background and my relationship with NSAs and firstly, I wanted to draw a clear line between policy makers and management. I don’t want the same people doing the policy and implementing it. It has to be separated.
I’m working on a blueprint to move forward. I restructured my committee. For now, our presence is not really felt. We are seen as a post master.
The government (Youth and Sports Ministry) does the policy and programme. We take the athletes, package them during the multi-sport Games ... we’ve become like travel agents. Under OCM, we have credible individuals serving in sports for a long time. It’s time for OCM to be involved in policy making too and I believe the relationship between the government and OCM must be strengthened.
Q: Currently, the National Sports Council (the arm of the Youth and Sports Ministry) handles the athletes programme. There is also the Podium Programme. Where do the OCM fit into all this?
A: I would prefer if we move to zero base. It will be ideal if the government provides the funding to NSAs directly. Let the NSAs plan, strengthen their training programme and be accountable for their own athletes. There are redundancy and duplication right now. We’ve the Podium Programme, then the back-up programme under NSC. We’re repeating ourselves at different levels. We may have to look into redefining the roles of the NSAs. All this will not happen if OCM are not given a role in policy making. Currently, we are just an umbrella body.
If we’re spending RM1 on an athlete, how much of it is going to the athlete? Or does it go to the experts, trainers, associations? We need to work on a lean and mean basis and reduce bureaucracies. BAM and FAM have been standing on their own and I hope other NSAs will be able to do the same.
Some NSAs need hand-holding, some of them need to strengthen their governance. In short, there is much work need to be done.
Q: Have you spoken about your vision and mission to Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman?
A: At this moment, we have no avenue to talk about this yet. I’ve requested for the minister to conduct a town hall meeting. We’re actually just one-and-a-half-years away from the Tokyo Olympic Games. We need to make decisions early and fast so that all can move forward.
Q: Do you think politics within sport have halted the progress of Malaysian sports?
A: It’s very difficult to make a general statement on this. I know most of the sports officials spend their own money and time to give their best for the sport. It’s a national service and the beauty is that sports unite people. As long as we are clear with the objectives, we will be above politics.
Q: What are the challenges that you foresee as you aim to reform OCM?
A: We’ve 35 affiliates and 11 associates, we need to look into ways to strengthen everyone. We’ve to categorise the sports into different levels. The focus will be on empowering these NSAs to embrace good governance, to establish their finance and strengthen their marketing strategies. But the challenge is, I cannot do it on my own. And I don’t want to do it on my own. Everyone has to step up – it has to be a collective effort.
I asked my former badminton coach Jeremy Gan (currently in Japan) on why the Japanese are doing well. He told me that it was not all about the coaches or the administration – it is also the athletes’ attitudes. In Japan, the players don’t want to stop training, they even ask questions about their game at night ... it’s all about having the right attitude. If the leaders, officials and athletes have the right attitude, we will go far. That’s the package for success.