Embrace sports industry to reap benefits

Last Sunday, New Zealand’s Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced a NZ$265 million budget for its struggling sports sector which has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Roberston, also the sports minister, said funding would be over four years, with NZ$83 million immediately available for “short-term support”.

New Zealand’s sports and recreation sector contributes some NZ$5 billion annually to its GDP and provides jobs to over 50,000 people.

The situation is no different in Malaysia. The sports industry here, just like most parts of the world, is thriving but is often overlooked.

There has not been any detailed study about the contribution of the sports industry. In fact, the accounts of the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games have yet to be made public, but for several figures revealed by this news website last year.

The secrecy ala North Korea is mind-boggling. Perhaps it’s the fear of discrepancies being out in the open. But such information is vital to truly understand the reach of organising such events, the spillover benefits and more importantly, the lessons learnt for future events. It shouldn’t be just for bragging rights or to benefit certain parties but to actually earn revenue and create jobs.

Almost every Malaysian is involved in some form of sporting activity or another – going to the gym, running, hiking or cycling.

The cycling community, for one, has grown rapidly over the years and those fancy bicycles and equipment aren’t cheap – some can cost as much as a brand new compat car.

Mind you, financial institutions don’t give out loans for bicycle – something Malaysia’s Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz, who is also a cycling enthusiast, will attest to. That shows the spending power of these enthusiasts and how the industry will be able to leverage on this to build a “healthy” economy.

There are over 3,000 individuals involved in Malaysia’s top flight football alone – the Super and Premier Leagues. Many others generate income at the community or grassroots level.

Private initiatives – from neighbourhood gyms to personal coaching services – have thrived in recent years in tandem with the change in socialising trends, especially among the younger generation.

While some view fitness as more of an Instagram-worthy moment, the sports and recreation industry has benefited tremendously from this indirect advertising via the posting of artistic images.

The Movement Control Order has seen operators forced to shut down, leaving personal trainers with zero income.

In such unprecedented times, many are hoping for monetary assistance from the government, specially the Youth and Sports Ministry. But money will never be enough.

Also, the distribution of such funds will prove difficult especially for personal trainers most of whome are not certified or don’t have any documentation to proof their involvement in the industry.

While a stimulus package to boost the industry is most welcomed, this should be a wake-up call for the authorities to realise the sway of the sports and recreation industry.

Tax rebates, endorsing events and creating opportunities for local industry players, among others, should be among the priorities that will help spur the market. This is not the job of one ministry alone, but requires the collective commitment of other ministries, especially the Finance Ministry.

Sports unites the people and creates a healthy population, which in turn can enhance productivity and help create jobs.

It also contributes to the nation’s coffers and when carried out professionally, sports associations need not rely on government (its agencies) or state government funds as what many state football associations do now.

In the meantime, it is hoped the stakeholders in the Malaysian sports scene stay strong and reinvent themselves to get their businesses going. We must find ways to soldier on in these unprecedented times. Make no mistake, sports is big business and is indeed a big deal.