No need for Youth and Sports Ministry to play cupid

It was a dialogue session that lasted barely an hour. Yet, some good 20 minutes were spent talking about the National Football Development Programme (NFDP).

The session between the Youth and Sports Ministry and the media at the National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur last month did not involve any officials from the guardian of the sport – the FA of Malaysia (FAM).

The NFDP is parked under the ministry, but it shouldn’t. The responsibility to promote, and unearth talents should lie with FAM. The notion that the football association had been slacking in its development programme, thus unable to stamp its mark as a footballing powerhouse in the Southeast Asian region, was the top-most reason why the NFDP was formed.

But that turned out to be a blessing in disguise for FAM, as it no longer had to shoulder the burden of the lack of talents and its poor showing, thanks to the Youth and Sports Ministry that seems all too eager to be in front of the firing squad.

As a result, this creates the assumption that the task of developing a particular sport lies with the ministry. This is wrong.

Fast forward to today, the ministry now seems to want to have a say in badminton.

This is because the nation’s No. 1 shuttler, Lee Zii Jia, is at present, Malaysia’s best bet in winning the elusive gold medal at the Summer Games in Paris next year.

However, Lee has not been able to find his footing, thus the need for some quarters to believe that the Alor Setar-born requires some form of “intervention” by the ministry.

This has not gone down well with certain quarters within the badminton fraternity. If they had the courage to say it on record – and in layman’s terms – it would be: “Why so sibuk wan?”

Lee made a personal choice and had opted out of the national stable. That makes him an independent shuttler. However, regardless of one’s association, only the best should represent the nation at the highest level. As such, it is only right that Lee – based on his ranking – be part of an elite list for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

However, that doesn’t mean that Lee gets to bake the cake, eat the cake, and later take selfies with the cake.

The Road to Gold committee, as said repeatedly in the past, is a add-on to the ongoing programmes that the athletes are undergoing. As such, Lee is expected to receive “top-ups”, whatever that it is, from the training that he is paying out of his own pocket. After all, that’s what being an independent is all about.

But if Lee wants to rejoin the BA of Malaysia or train under its roof, then he should discuss the matter directly with the association, and not go through any intermediary. After all, Lee and BAM president Tan Sri Norza Zakaria have been taking wefies together, so they would most likely know how to reach out to one another.

So, what exactly can the ministry do? Force BAM to take Lee back? That would be seen as interference by the government.

All the ministry and/or its representatives can do, realistically, is to just “talk” to the respective parties, provide some “feel-good factor” via photo ops, and ride on the popularity of the athlete and sport. That’s it.

Several BAM council members are not too keen on having Lee on board. That is expected, given how the saga unfolded last year that saw then prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob playing cupid.

However, egos should not come in the way of the nation’s quest to achieve greatness. If Lee manages to stand at the top of the podium in Paris, he will be forever known as the first Malaysian to do so. Only that matters.

So it’s best for the ministry to give sports associations and athletes the room to make their own decisions. And be accountable for them.

Sports in Malaysia is not just about the elite few. It is about focusing on the masses and developing policies that would see more Malaysians leading a sporty and healthy lifestyle.

That’s where the ministry’s priority should be.