A question of getting it right in sports

  • Say What
  • Wednesday, 01 Jan 2020

Peerless: Datuk Nicol David and Datuk Lee Chong Wei have left a void in their respective sports.

WE seem to be living in a time of silly questions, about “fugitive icons” and universities setting Primary Year 1-level examinations.

So, here is a more relevant question for the end of the year – how would you describe Malaysian sports in 2019?

No multi-choice answers here, no inaccuracies or insensitivities that divide a nation. Just truthful opinions. Sports, after all, unites people of all colours, nationalities and ages.

Before you answer, here’s a guide to help you make up your mind.

Frankly, there have been more lows than highs for Malaysian sports. Nothing much has changed as far as results are concerned.

There was no badminton king Lee Chong Wei to win one title after another or squash queen Nicol David to do the same in her sport.

Both icons retired last year (yes, IT IS last year now) from their illustrious careers for different reasons – one due to nose cancer and the other after her body weakened after years of a punishing training regime.

While it’s nice to see Chong Wei and Nicol giving back – one as the chef-de-mission for this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games and the other as the athletes’ mentor during the recent Philippines SEA Games, there is no denying that they have left a void in their respective sports.

There will be new stars, of course – but it will take time.

The trick is in fast tracking the progress of youngsters who will be the new stars. And that’s the responsibility of respective associations, coaches, officials and athletes.

Sports administrators, at least some of them, have to change their mentality, from being narrow-minded to being open to new ideas, if we are to move forward and catch up with other successful sporting nations like China, Australia and the United States.

While other countries, even our regional neighbours, seem to get it right with their plans, programmes and preparations at grassroots, schools, and universities – our system seems flawed at all levels.

We keep appointing presidents and officials who are more keen on positions and power than those who are willing to get down and dirty for the betterment of their sport. Talking of down and dirty, that could also describe the election system in sports associations. Remember the Malaysia Hockey Confederation’s messy polls that saw pullouts and long arguments?

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman had been touted as a young man who would bring a fresh breath of air – but thus far, it’s been more like a chaotic whirlwind.

Syed Saddiq disbanded the Podium Programme. After six months, he reinstated it.

In that six months, programmes stalled, athletes were clueless about what was ahead of them, and many foreign sports science experts had to go, including National Sports Institute (NSI) director Tim Newenham, who had only just established a workable programme.

Malaysia’s loss is certainly Oman’s gain as the Englishman was quickly appointed as their technical director.

Syed Saddiq spoke about limiting officials from holding too many posts; allowing former athletes to take leadership roles; and even stopping politicians from becoming sports leaders – but none has come to fruition. It’s been largely empty rhetoric.

His predecessor Khairy Jamaluddin, at least, could claim to have walked the talk in some aspects and had better focus in running sports in the country. Syed Saddiq has been a minister of all things, besides his own portfolio.

Maybe we should have two different ministries – one for Youth and one for Sports. Syed Saddiq can lead the youths while a former athlete can be Sports Minister.

A few names come to mind – Mirnawan Nawawi (hockey), Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan (sprinter), Wong Choong Hann (shuttler) and Jeffrey Ong (swimmer) among the men and Nurul Huda Abdullah (swimmer), G. Shanti (sprinter) and Nicol among the women.

I would have included former water polo athlete Datuk Sieh Kok Chi in the list but the respected figure has retired. But an older man than him has become Prime Minister, so why not Kok Chi at 71?

The former athlete-minister can focus on reviving school and university sports; change sports policy; give clubs more prominence, whip the states into shape and give the elite athletes the best support.

As we enter 2020 today, there is another burning question. Can we pass the test to make 2020 a productive and successful sporting year for Malaysia?

We only finished fifth at the Philippines SEA Games recently – although there were stronger performances from the women athletes and several youngsters.

We have managed the smallest number of qualifiers for the Tokyo Games so far – and even a one-medal target could prove difficult. While the four silver-one bronze achievement of Rio 2016 seems impossible, it is hoped the shuttlers, cyclists and divers can spring surprises.

We have good athletes, good coaches and dedicated officials – I know some of them – but they are few in number.

And most of those few are demoralised and demotivated with the lack of good leadership and poor management.

It’s my wish that this new year – the athletes, officials, leaders, other sports stakeholders including us journalists – can do some self-examination. We have to ask ourselves the right questions and be honest in our answers.

Questions like: have I been truthful? have I been ethical? have I given my best? have I been disciplined? what is my motivation – money, fame or sheer passion? And where and how can I improve?

We have to do away with stupid questions. And create real sports icons.

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”

– Joel A. Barker

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