Malaysian sports need to transition now more than ever

As one of the leading rugby coaches in the world, Eddie Jones wrote in his autobiography: “Every team in elite sport has to deal with failure, and they need leaders to find a way out of the chaos and confusion. And when the team moves into a great position, and the wins are rolling, complacency is your next threat.

“So it’s important you have leaders who can identify these transitional periods and deal with them quickly. It’s how you build success.”

In reading his book, there are numerous lessons we can learn from his experience. The quote above has to be the most poignant. It has an uncanny resemblance to where Malaysia is today.

To borrow a football and rugby term, Malaysia is experiencing a transition – be it the economy, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and others. In the case of this column, our sport is also in transition.

Our major transition in the past was in the last decade of the previous millennium to prepare us as the proud host of the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games.

The Games also coincided with the development of our new airport, light railway transits, highways, international broadcast centre, telecommunications network, major hotels, the Petronas Twin Towers, Putrajaya, and many more.

Sports was also a beneficiary of this confluence of rapid development.

The most prominent exhibit of the government’s investment into sports in 1998 was the world-class sports facilities in Bukit Jalil and the world-class athletes across a broader range of sports, including diving, weightlifting, cycling, squash, lawn bowls, and archery. Too many heroes and heroines to name, but you know who they are.

Behind the scene, we also had respected sport administrators in giants like Tunku Imran Ja’afar, Datuk Mazlan Ahmad, Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, Tan Sri Elyas Omar, and Datuk Alex Lee (now Tan Sri), to name a few.

Many in the support system played their respective roles behind the scenes, from broadcasting and marketing to sport science and coaching. It was a transition period that, arguably, was the last major transformation of Malaysian sport.

Malaysia not only made a major statement to the world regarding sport diplomacy but every stakeholder in sports today would have been touched by the 1998 Games in one way or another. Today, many in our sport’s front or back offices are of the KL98 legacy.

As successful as it was, we are now running on the fumes of the exponential success of that transition. The system today is not broken. It is obsolete.

A broken system can be repaired, but an obsolete system carries a tougher challenge.

It involves stakeholders who feel the system still works and nothing needs to be changed; it is business as usual. We then end up doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Metaphorically speaking, we are stuck using the analogue landline telephone whilst the rest of the world is on the latest mobile smartphone.

In this transition, Malaysia needs to focus on the three headline areas; the sports structure, commercialisation opportunities, and the grouping of science, medicine, technology, and data analytics.

Sport structure 

Many support the late Sieh’s school of thought that the National Sports Associations (NSAs) should get more support and be financially independent.

Ultimately, for the NSAs to be the implementing body while the National Sports Council (NSC) limits itself to being a funding agency only – supervising and monitoring the disbursement of funds.

For the NSAs to be independent, they must build their capacity and have paid professional management. Separation of supervision and daily operations will unlock a professionally driven management.

The NSAs in Malaysia are in dire need of this change as it is still working on an amateur model that is archaic. It makes the work for the athletes and support group much harder, competing on the global stage against either professional athletes or athletes with the professional system behind them.

In short, other than for development, the NSAs also need to build their capacity to meet the needs and demands of the private sector for funding.

Professional sports leagues and a stronger commercial-led pathway are also critical in making the next major step. A robust club system from the grassroots to the elite has to be facilitated and encouraged.

Many other key areas require attention to improve our sport structure.

Science, medicine, technology and data analytics

The Industrial Revolution 4.0 is upon us. Malaysia must adopt sports technology and data analytics as part of the norm to supplement science and medicine.

Science, Medicine, Technology and Data Analytics should be at all levels of athlete development, from grassroots to high performance.

There are technologies in existence today that allow us to prepare our athletes better and are already adopted by other countries globally. It provides the edge required to accelerate and sharpen the development of athletes.

Furthermore, Malaysia is rich in natural resources, like flora and fauna. As turmeric, coconut water and other organic wellness solutions are gaining global advocators and demand, this should provide our athletes with the added competitive advantage provided it does not trigger any anti-doping rules and regulations.

Commercialisation

Funding from the private sector, companies and individuals must be called upon. Here, there needs to be push-and-pull policies working together to unlock and ease the flow of private funding into areas that the private sector sees fit.

After all, if every household (eight million in 2020) in Malaysia spends an average of RM500 on sporting-related transactions annually, we are looking at RM4 billion coming into the industry.

Competitions, academies, clubs, coaching, gear, and apparel at the very foundation of sport development can benefit from this support. We can use government regulations to help with this.

Malaysia may never be able to implement a welfare-based lottery like the United Kingdom’s National Lottery.

A great example is the tax relief and matching grant that Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh initiated under the latest budget, as it would help direct the flow of funds into the community and grassroots in the long term.

There are other fundraising opportunities within broadcast rights, game day income and commercialisation deals that our NSAs and rights holders should also adopt and implement.

The reset transition

If the Kuala Lumpur 1998 transition for sport took political will by our leaders, we surely need it now more than ever. Malaysia needs someone with wisdom and steady hands, akin to carrying a divine sense of destiny in taking us through this period. We witnessed this from the previous Youth and Sports Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin.

Now, we can see it in Yeoh. She began by liberalising sport and making it highly accessible to every child and family to turn us into an active nation.

Yeoh has focussed on the basics of sports and made it right through various key policies in the last six months.

In addition, Yeoh was a Speaker of a State Assembly, which makes her well aware and adept at listening, analysing, and applying wisdom calmly in moments of chaos.

As far as “leaders who can identify these transitional periods and deal with them quickly”, Malaysia is in safe and steady hands under Yeoh’s leadership.

As all the stakeholders in sport work with the minister, it is our destiny to help deliver the reset that Malaysian sport needs in this transition.

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