Data-driven decisions vital in helping sports industry

Recently, I had a quick video call with a friend who works for a private equity firm that has invested enormously in community sports, mainly football.

For the past two years, the firm has invested millions in bringing in a sports brand from the UK which focuses on custom-designed team wear, developed three sports infrastructures with multiple football fields, established a sports consultancy firm and introduced a digital media platform dedicated to sharing illustrations, news and information on local football. Business was booming and more people were participating in sports.

Then Covid-19 happened. The savagery it caused is incredible. Over 370,000 are dead worldwide, mass unemployment is seen across all industries, people are under house arrest, Kuala Lumpur looks like Beirut, and this column is the fourth I’ve written while wearing a surgical mask.

Our government responded swiftly to the immediate threats of the pandemic. Within days of the Movement Control Order being declared, the Prime Minister announced an economic stimulus package to help the people cushion the financial fall due to the lockdown.

It has now been close to 80 days since the lockdown. The number of deaths and reported cases has significantly declined.

It all sounds jolly exciting and hopeful but community sports businesses (eg. gyms, futsal courts, football fields) are in agony and even though these businesses may be allowed to reopen soon, it is unlikely that people have regained full confidence to get back to their usual sporting activities.

New Zealand, had last month, announced a NZ$285 million budget for its struggling sports sector. The budget seems obvious, especially when we all know that New Zealand’s sports and recreation sector contributes some NZ$5 billion annually to its GDP and provides jobs to over 50,000 people.

I suppose we all think, rather naively, that our sports industry in Malaysia contributes somewhat within the same amount. To be honest, I don’t know.

In fact, I bet the people at the Youth and Sports Ministry are equally mystified. Being in the Malaysian sports industry for more than a decade, I can safely say that a strong, data-driven culture remains elusive, and research outputs are rarely the universal basis for any decision-making.

In convincing the Finance Ministry of the urgency and need for a financial stimulus, we cannot entirely base our justifications on reasoning that is purely ideologically driven. It requires sound public policy that is transparent, accountable, and effective.

To meet this challenge, we have to come up with a clear and coherent set of ideas and use available resources and instruments as efficiently as possible to produce the arguments or reasoning that the finance minister cannot refute.

The process involved in articulating and defining a progressive argument for the industry is what defines great leadership. Achieving that vision as effectively as possible requires a shift towards data-based policy-making. While this may sound nakedly self-evident, the lack of good statistical data in sports is revealing.

Clearly a shift of mindset is required on the part of some policy makers so that the index is seen not only as a way to critique but also as a tool to reinforce the government. In this regard, we still have much work to do.

People say that the previous youth and sports minister worked very hard. But the value of a man’s work is measured by the legacy he leaves.

On that basis, you may want to scream eSports, which makes me pretty damn miserable. But not half as miserable as knowing that my vote in the next general election will be diluted or cancelled out by an overwhelming group of people who don’t pay taxes, live with their parents and depend on study loans to be marginally learned.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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