My hopes for changes in sports development of Malaysia

National Sports Institute

Before the formation of the Youth and Sports Ministry in the late 60s, there was little government funding for sport development and participation.

Sports development was carried out by the schools and the national sports associations. There was no specific government budget for sports.

The economic development model adopted by Malaysia since independence in 1957 is based on the Five-Year Malaya/Malaysia Plan. The First Plan was from 1956 to 1969. Today, Malaysia is into the 11th Plan (2016 to 2020).  To secure government funding, departments, agencies and ministries have to prepare and submit their five-year development plans for approval by Parliament.

The five-year plans are based on national strategies, visions and policies stipulated by the government.

After approval by Parliament, the departments concerned have to prepare and submit detailed programmes early in the year, for approval under the annual budget. This is to ensure funds are allotted to them to use the following year.

The National Sports Council, since it became active in 1980, has been preparing sports development programmes, specifically for participation in international championships and multi-sports games, under fanciful names and slogans. The first such programme was initiated by Datuk Noh Abdullah, the head director of MSN then, under the title ‘Programme Target 86’ for the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul, South Korea.

That programme has many similarities with the Podium Programme 2017 to 2020, such as identifying elite athletes from 25 sports for training, identifying centres of excellence for the athletes to train, overseas competitions, educational assistance and athletes’ assistance scheme.

Unfortunately, the 1986 programme was not very successful – at the Bangkok 1985 SEA Games, we won only 26 gold, 26 silver and 33 bronze medals to finish fouth behind Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines. The results at the Seoul 1986 Asian Games were just as bad, with only five silver and five bronze medals to show.

For some reason, there was no programme for the Jakarta 1987 SEA Games.

Projek Gemilang 1990 was launched in January 1988 to prepare for the 1989 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, and the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, China. A budget of RM2.76 million was approved for 20 sports.

The 1989 SEA Games turned out to be a great success, with Malaysia finishing second, with 67 gold, 57 silver and 78 bronze medals. Thailand was champion.

Unfortunately, like the 1986 programme, Projek Gemilang 1990 was a disappointment in Beijing, with two gold (sepaktakraw), two silver and four bronze medals.

With Malaysia winning the right to host the 1998 Commonwealth Games, the government, through the National Sports Council (NSC) launched continuous but separate training programmes for each major Games.

From 1993 to 1998 was Program Jaya 98 to prepare for the 1998 Commonwealth Games. Program Jaya 98 was successful as it brought up the standards of sports like diving, weightlifting, cycling, etc.

Then came Program 2001 for the 21st SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, where Malaysia finished at the top for the first time. There was also Program 2002 for the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games that year, Doha 2006 for the Asian Games, Cabaran 2010 for the Asian and Commonwealth Games, Road to London 2012 for the Olympic Games, and the Kita Juara Program for the 29th SEA Games 2017 in Kuala Lumpur where Malaysia again finished at the top.

For the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, there is still the on-going Podium Programme which ends in 2020, hopefully with Malaysia winning her first Olympic Games gold medal.

The Podium Programme, launched in early 2016, covers 21 sports with a budget of over RM100 million. The target is to win Malaysia’s first Olympic gold medal.

Evaluation of the Programmes

NSC has implemented 10 sports programmes since 1984 but no in-depth assessments of the success of the programmes were ever made. The main aspects of the programmes have not changed much over the last 35 years, except for larger contributions from sports science.

NSC claims that the more systematic scientific training systems enable athletes to excel. While there was some success, it has been limited.

The main reason is the lack of transparency and openness in the formulating training programmes with the stakeholders.

The roles and contributions of national sports associations are not seen or recognised. My impression is that most of the programmes, if not all, are prepared and implemented by MSN as it provides the funds has always felt it’s MSN’s right to control the funds.

The Future

With the new Pakatan Harapan government, I hope there will be some changes.

My first wish national sports associations get more support so they can ultimately stand on their own feet and be independent.

The associations have been getting weaker over the years and the NSC stronger. In term of staffing, NSC and the National Sports Institute (NSI) easily outnumber the sports associations. It is natural then that most associations cannot keep up with the workload. That’s how NSC slowly but surely took over the roles of the associations.

The recent action by NSC and NSI to reduce staff is a step in the right direction.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been advising Malaysians to be self-reliant and reduce their dependence on government subsidies.

Unfortunately, the centralised planning system and implementation of programmes for sports will not achieve the target of making national sports associations and sports officials more self-reliant.

NSC cannot and should not continue as both a funding agency and an implementing agency. It is a conflict of interest that can and has led to corrupt practices and abuse of power.

NSC should only be a funding agency, approving funds to the associations based on programmes prepared in accordance with basic rules and conditions.

After granting the funds, NSC should supervise and monitor if the funds are used properly. Any person or organisation infringing the rules should be penalised.

If the government does not make a start now to strengthen the sports associations and make them more self-reliant, the present situation will remain for many more years.