The nation was given the illusion that the national contingent will return from the 30th SEA Games with 70 gold medals, 51 silver and 105 bronze medals.
Instead, the contingent featuring 773 athletes who competed in 52 sports, could only manage 55 gold medals, 58 silver and 71 bronze medals.
Malaysia, with a population of 32 million, was fifth in the medal tally, just two gold medals ahead of Singapore – an island nation with a population of 5.8 million.
The list of excuses drawn up following the nation’s failure was lame and showed how the National Sports Council (NSC) and even the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) were easily smitten by the false impressions painted by the national sports associations.
This was evident when both organisations were gullible enough to believe obstacle course could secure two gold medals despite the sport debuting in the Games.
Biased judging was highlighted as another excuse. It is indeed mind-boggling for certain sports associations, especially the Malaysian Gymnastics Federation (MGF), to raise this issue as it is publicly known biased judging exists in subjective sports.
In 2016, the International Gymnastics Federation suspended two judges for biased scoring at the 2015 Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart.
NBC News and Dartmouth economist Eric Zitzewitz, who spent 15 years studying national bias in figure skating judging at the Olympics, highlighted judges typically gave skaters from their homelands more points than skaters from other nations, as reported by NBC News last year.
The NSC took full responsibility and apologised for the dismissal performance. Yet, there were those who hungered for blood.
The blame game quickly kicked in as calls for the resignation of certain quarters, including the Youth and Sports Minister and NSC director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail, followed suit.
Ahmad Shapawi’s predecessor, Datuk Seri Zolkples Embong, could not suppress his disappointment and felt the need to write an open letter to the minister.
He described the trip to the Philippines as the worst showing and called for the resignation of Ahmad Shapawi.
For the record, Malaysia’s worst showing at the SEA Games was 40 gold medals (348 Malaysian athletes competed in 21 sports) at the 2009 edition in Laos but it was five more than its target.
It is unfair to compare the overall medal tally from one Games to another simply because the number of sports varies at every edition.
Zolkples too has seen failures, having spent an undisclosed amount on lawyers during his tenure as he and his officer Suhardi Alias went to great lengths to secure the rights to the tiger-striped jersey of a new ‘Team Malaysia’ kit as the design was trademarked by Mesuma Sports.
Despite the efforts to finally obtain the rights to the design, the national jersey was replaced by Melinda Looi’s design in 2014.
Speaking about the SEA Games, it would be great to know why did it take the Malaysia Organising Committee, of which Zolkples was the chief executive officer, so long to get the accounts for the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games signed. The figures have not been made public by the government to date.
Former NSC director-general Datuk Wira Mazlan Ahmad, who usually shies away from the limelight since leaving office, said the performance in the Philippines isn’t “as bad” as painted by certain people.
The Badminton Association of Malaysia was unimpressed with Zolkples’ assessment of the national shuttlers.
The eagerness to see heads roll is expected as a precedent has been set.
Zolkples was given the boot in 2014 after the national athletes failed to meet the target at the 2014 Asian Games.
As the national athletes again failed to meet expectations at last year’s Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, the multi-million ringgit Podium Programme came under fire. Its director Tim Newenham claimed responsibility and submitted his resignation letter, adding “it was the honourable thing to do”.
Somehow, the leaders from the national sports associations – some serving for decades – seem to get away with such failures.
Instead, hanging on seems to have fuelled their motivation and eagerness to helm the associations for the perceived belief that it will somewhat guarantee them the ability to rebrand themselves, to rub shoulders with the who’s who and hopefully be conferred a title or two.
Statements and promises are made only for them to make U-turns, yet they are not penalised. It’s business as usual.
To demand the resignation of one or two leaders will not fix anything.
Until and unless sports organisations are run by those passionate about sports and understand the landscape of the sports industry and monetisation efforts to ensure sports associations are able to stand on their own feet, nothing will ever change.
They can start by having some form of presence online. We will usher in 2020 in a few days but some sports associations don’t even have a functional website or social media account to disseminate information.
But alas they are voted in by state officials who also seem to hunger for similar glory, if not a free trip or two abroad.
The fear now is about the national contingent’s performance at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
The lack of planning despite the large number of officials, the eagerness to bank on one or two athletes, and constantly begging for taxpayers’ money are worrying signs that we will never move forward – ever.
It is sad that the pockets of success recorded by our national athletes in the Philippines were drowned.
So yes, we have failed indeed.
Main image from NSC’s Twitter account (@MSNMALAYSIA)