One year on, nothing new in Malaysian sports

National Stadium, Bukit Jalil - Unsplash/ Helmi Adnan

May 9, 2018 was a historic and exciting day for Malaysia. It was the day a “New Malaysia” came into existence, led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who is serving as prime minister for a second time.

A year on, the performance and achievements of the Pakatan Harapan-led government is being evaluated and assessed by Malaysians and those beyond our borders.

Dr Mahathir summarised the performance of his ministers with an average score of five out of 10. This means some ministers scored above five, while some scored below that.

And some have said that the young and bright Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman deserves a three.

What has the minister done or not done that begets such an opinion?

When the people voted for Pakatan Harapan, they had high hopes and expected changes. In early August 2018, the hopes of stakeholders in sports were raised when the Youth and Sports Deputy Minister Steven Sim publicly and boldly stated that the ministry was among the 10 most corrupt ministries due to weaknesses in the procurement and payment processes.

However, the government has avoided a systemic review of the sports situation in the country, let alone made any changes.

In 2014, after the Asian Games in Incheon and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, then minister Khairy Jamaluddin declared the performance of the Malaysian contingents to be unsatisfactory. He took the opportunity to transfer senior National Sports Council (NSC) and National Sports Institute (NSI) staff and established the budget-heavy Podium Programme.

The 2018 results of the Jakarta Asian Games and the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games were no better. A comparison of the medal tallies of the above four Games follow:

Asian Games

2014 – Five gold, 14 silver and 14 bronze medals (Total 33 medals; ranked 14th)

2018 – Seven gold, 13 silver and 16 bronze medals (Total 36 medals; ranked 14th)

Commonwealth Games

2014 – Six gold, seven silver and six bronze medals (Total 19 medals; ranked 12th)

2018 – Seven gold, five silver and 12 bronze medals (Total 24 medals; ranked 12th)

There was no assessment of the results and certainly no comparison with the 2014 results. How can the 2018 results be deemed to be satisfactory, after so much funds were invested in the Podium Programme as well as the Kita Juara Programme?

The shortage of government funds forced the ministry, NSC and NSI to reduce their staff, especially those involved in the Podium Programme.

Even the highly acclaimed 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur has no closure as after 18 months, the official report has not been distributed to the participating countries due to multiple mistakes, such as missing events, names and wrong results.

How such elementary mistakes happened is shocking. Who is responsible after spending around RM450 million on the 29th SEA Games?

To make matters worse, the accounts for the 2017 SEA Games have not been closed or if closed, not published.

When will the accounts be made public? Will it be a repeat of Sukom 98, where the accounts for the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur were only closed 10 years later and never made public?

Syed Saddiq, had during the National Sportsman and Sportswoman Awards ceremony on April 23, 2019, proudly announced five initiatives by the ministry: Malaysian Athlete Career and Education (MACE); Athletes Track Programme; Skim Kesihatan Atlet dan Bekas Atlet Negara; One State, One University, One Centre; and Athlete Centre.

The five programmes are not new and in fact being re-cycled.

Since almost all of the ministry or NSC’s initiatives and programmes are very much dependent on budget availability, whether there will be any benefit remains to be seen.

At the same function, the minister spoke of the ministry’s sponsorship programme under the title ‘Pembangunan Sukan Prestasi Tinggi Negara Melalui Program TeamMAS’.

He stated that Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) is sponsoring RM40 million, CIMB is sponsoring junior cycling and Coca Cola is sponsoring young athletes in the ministry’s programmes.

As we are all aware, MAB and CIMB are both government-linked companies (GLC), while Coca Cola is a long-term sponsor of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Games and had in fact sponsored the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) for over 25 years.

The government imposes taxes on corporations, some of which sponsor national sports associations (NSAs) and other sports community activities and programmes. It is rather unfair for the ministry to undermine and undercut the NSAs by making the corporate sector their sponsor.

Being the government, it is natural for the corporate sector, especially GLCs to respect and comply with government requests but this has never been done so openly.

Why should the government have two bites of the apple? The government has taken its share from taxes and now it is “robbing” the NSAs, who are the government’s loyal supporters.

“Robbing” the NSAs by taking over their sponsors is unfair and is not done anywhere else. The NSAs are often labelled as being corrupt but history shows it is always government officials who are corrupt.

OCM has always appealed to the government to let the NSAs control their development planning and programmes. Past ministers had pledged to do so, but the government has instead slowly but surely taken over the role and responsibilities of the NSAs.

The move by the ministry to sign up sponsors is another obvious effort to move in that direction.

Under “New Malaysia”, the time is opportune for NSC to hand the baton back to the NSAs and assume its rightful role of being the facilitator of elite sports and supporter of the NSAs.

Such a move would certainly motivate the NSAs to work harder and contribute meaningfully to the development of their respective sports. The NSAs are responsible for all successes and failures in their sport.

Sim, meanwhile, has called on the sports fraternity to “embrace new ways”. One new way, which hopefully the deputy minister can take note of is to have strong capable NSAs supported financially by both the private sector and government, who are not only responsible for the successful delivery of their sport but also fully accountable to those who support them.

This is in fact the original way, a well-used model followed by many successful sporting nations. Diverting some of the government’s funds to build up the capacity of the NSAs is of utmost urgency to prevent a serious deterioration of sports in our country.

Sadly, the minister has done nothing but continue the programmes and projects of the Barisan Nasional-led government.

Dr Mahathir had advised his ministers to talk to the people. Unfortunately, this is not being done in sports.

Although the minister has set up ‘Jumpa Kami #teamKBS’ for those from youth or sports organisations, current and former coaches and current and former athletes seldom, if at all, get the appointments they seek.

It is one thing to promise and another, which is more important, to fulfil one’s promise. The main unhappiness of sports people is the inability to meet the minister to share their views. Only a select few have that luxury.

Even the request for a review of the Malaysia Games (Sukma) has not been successful. Some sports are sidelined and removed from the Games for no good reason, simply because certain officials do not like the sports.

Sukma is the lifeline for some of the less popular and rich sports. Some are not considered for the SEA Games, and if left out of Sukma, marks their death knell.

Some NSA officials hope for an in-depth review and discussion with the minister of the objectives of Sukma. It has often been said that it is easier for a sport to be included in the SEA Games than in Sukma.

There is still four years to go. The minister and his staff should be more open and receptive to new ideas and views from passionate and dedicated sports people.

Everyone is aware of the dangers of ‘in-breeding’. Just listening to one’s own staff is similar to in-breeding. New Malaysia is for a more open Malaysia.

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

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