A lot to do for new sports minister – if she lasts long enough

THE youth and sports fraternity has been waiting with bated breath for who the new minister in charge will be.

Now that Hannah Yeoh has been named for the job, one hopes she will be a competent and dynamic minister to carry the aspirations of the youth in serving out this portfolio.

After all, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will have high hopes for her. The Prime Minister himself once served as Culture, Youth and Sports Minister for about a year before moving on to more senior portfolios.

The Youth and Sports Ministry has always been the training ground for future Prime Ministers with the likes of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob all having served in the portfolio before.

What most people will be hoping is that the new minister in the job will last for at least one term.

We certainly miss the days when the national sports family could have a go-to minister for a period of five years. The last one to have served a full term was Khairy Jamaluddin from 2013 to 2018.

Since then, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman served from July 2018 to February 2020 when the Sheraton Move felled him. He was replaced by Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican from March 2020 until August 2021 when the Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin government fell.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu took over only to lose his Tambun seat in the recent elections.

Five years is already a relatively short term when one talks about grooming world beaters or Olympic champions but it should be enough to implement changes or lay out the foundations for new ideas.

But these three previous ministers hardly had any time to implement policies, much less see the fruits of their work.

Syed Saddiq was the youngest ever minister when he was named to the post but had to deal with the expectations of the Malaysian public after the national contingent failed to secure its target of 70 golds in the 2019 Manila SEA Games. They only managed 56 golds.

Reezal Merican took over at a time when the country was facing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and his hands were tied as a result.

However, Reezal was a good supporter of sports and initiated the National Sports Vision 2030 while presiding over the contingent’s performance at the Tokyo Olympics, which was delayed by a year because of the pandemic.

The outgoing minister Ahmad Faizal perhaps had the satisfaction of seeing the nation ending its long wait for a badminton world champion with men’s doubles pair Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik clinching the title in Tokyo.

Faizal was also in charge when the national football team ended a 42-year wait to qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup finals taking place in Qatar.

To be fair, much of it was not Faizal’s success – he just did not do much tinkering with the policies laid in place by his predecessors.

Perhaps what most people involved in the sports fratenity would like to see is for the new appointee to concentrate on strengthening the current policies and not try to create his own legacy, which may backfire.

New ministers often come in with new ideas but these get shunted aside when someone else takes over.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein was into extreme sports and Kuala Lumpur hosted the Asian X-Games while Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, who was the first woman Sports Minister, focused on women in sports.

Khairy came up with the Fit Malaysia and National Sports Day while Syed Saddiq went for esports.All these ideas have disappeared along with the ministers. We can assume there could also be a review of the proposal to build drag circuits around the country with RM20mil already allocated under the Budget. Anwar, after all, has expressed his desire to cut down on unnecessary expenditure.

What we really need is an entrenched sports policy that everyone who comes in can help to strengthen.

It will not be fair for the new minister to be answerable for the performance of the contingent at the Asian Games in Hangzhou next year or the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

What she can do is address the decline of young talent coming through the ranks and how to get the public to be more active.

There has also been a decline in young talents coming through the schools. Outside of schools, there is a need for more sporting activities and initiatives for the masses which can create a sporting eco-system.

The big goal is to turn Malaysia into a truly sporting nation – and to let sports remain as the best unifying tool.

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