“MALAYSIA to Auburn. Welcome home, Azeem Fahmi,” the Auburn Track and Field squad announced on their social media platform.
After months of speculations about the 18-year-old’s future, Malaysian sprint sensation Azeem has chosen Auburn University in Alabama.
He had good reason to. At Auburn, he will be coached by two-time 100m world record holder Leroy Burrell, who is the athletics head coach.
Auburn University came in at number seven in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for Men’s Outdoor Track and Field ranking.
College athletes are a big part of the US’ success in winning medals at the Olympic Games.
American colleges and universities are training grounds not only for members of the US Olympics team, but Olympians from other countries as well.
They have excellent training facilities, world class coaches, proper diet and massive motivation with good competitions all year round.
As a freshman, Azeem’s hardest time may come from adjusting to this balance but with the right attitude and planning, he can scale heights in both academics and athletics.
Azeem will be assured of top level training and competitions, and stands a good chance of qualifying for the Olympics and World Championships in the future.
There would be little such chance in Malaysia where track and field has become a dwindling sport.
The Malaysian track and field team were much admired and respected throughout Asia in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, after the turn of the millennium, the golden days of Malaysian athletics are gone.
The performances of the athletes now reflect the may problems facing both athletes and the associations.
Who can bring the glory days back? Who has the vision to bring about the transformation?
At the grassroots level, constant competitions with structure and process are absent. Coaching courses, sponsorships, coaching experts, the involvement of schools, training of teachers and effective state sports councils are needed.
How many schools in the country even have working running tracks?
How many students at primary level are taught the Fosbury Flop, which determines the size of the talent pool for high jumpers? What about hurdlers, what is the official count of those actually trained?
Athletics suffered the most, not only due to a lack of talent scouting, but also the lack of dedication, passion and vision.
The government, on their part, are providing various allocations and incentives, and the corporate sector do come with sponsorship efforts.
However, all these will come to nought if sports associations are caught in their own vicious cycle of the blame game.
It is time for sports associations to be helmed by leaders who really want to see athletes achieve glory for the nation and not just to use their positions to boost their own image.
We need to deal with this dilemma, to invest in athletes, coaching, competitions and looking into the education and welfare of our sportsmen and women.
There are many things that need to be shaken up and straightened out. There are many crucial decisions to be made, key among which is: “What should be our end-goals in athletics?”
Why not set, for example, more gold medals as targets in every competition - even the Olympics.
Whatever goals we set must then be balanced by a serious focus on our sportsmen and sportswomen to meet those targets.
We must factor them into our policies.
Good luck to Azeem Fahmi, stay strong. Malaysian athletics will support you all the way.