Ahmad Faizal racing against time to push sports for the masses

“Should we go to the pool room, instead?” asked Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu as we exited his office on the 17th floor of Wisma KBS in Putrajaya and headed towards the room across.

There was nothing fancy in the room – just a pool table smack dab in the middle, the cues neatly tucked by the wall, a couple of chairs, and a white, three-seater sofa.

“Make yourself at home,” the Youth and Sports Minister continued, as he removed his jacket, and sat on the sofa during a meeting on Friday morning.

It was neither his crisp white shirt, nor the blue tie that stood out, but the G-Shock slapped on Ahmad Faizal’s left wrist. Many of his stature would, after all, prefer flashing a Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre, or perhaps a Patek Philippe.

The other thing that stood out was when he started preaching about sports for the masses.

“We must pay attention to the grassroots, at the community levels. This is where we will find talents who will go on to represent the nation,” Ahmad Faizal added.

“Imagine having leagues at the community levels nationwide. Leagues for football, basketball, table tennis and other core sports.

“Imagine the number of athletes that will be produced, the increase in demand for sports products like shirts and equipment, and the involvement of parents and families in such activities. Isn’t this moving towards adopting a sporting culture?

“You will also see the spill-over effects of such activities. Participants or their supporters will buy food or drinks from the nearby stalls. That’s generating income for the community. This is what sports for the masses is all about, looking at the bigger picture.”

It’s not rocket science, but it’s a theory that’s never been put to the test. Such an initiative may require the buy-in from other ministries and local councils.

For years, the ministry had been focusing on the elite levels, with only a handful of initiatives targeting the masses. One of them is the annual National Sports Day, where money and energy is spent on one day only, for the objectives to be quickly forgotten the very next day.

“We have started talking to the Education Ministry. We would like to get the National Unity Ministry involved as well.”

“The ministry’s new secretary-general (Datuk M. Jana Santhiran) was formerly with the Environment and Water Ministry. Why can’t our activities inject messages like sustainability, or water conservation? The messaging must be clear, too.”

All this sounds great. Some may call this “political rhetoric” and point out that this would take a long time to execute.

Ahmad Faizal, who is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia deputy president, readily admitted that he does not have much time in office, with talks of a looming general election.

“I know I don’t have time. But for as long as I’m here, I just want to do what’s right for Malaysians. I’m not using this office for political mileage; I don’t go around talking about Bersatu.

“I’m not like the other politicians. I’m a different breed. People look at me as the jovial, happy-go-lucky guy and think I’m just that. But I’m serious when it comes to work and making a difference.”

Ahmad Faizal, while bullish with his plans, may face resistance from within, due to the territorial nature of the various departments and agencies under the ministry. But he seems comfortable with Jana.

“He’s quite fast (in getting things done) and we are on the same page.”

It was pointed out that the ministry still failed to get the basics right – the long overdue National Sports Vision 2030, and the accounts of the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, have yet to be made public, while the findings of the Podium Programme Enhancement Committee, handed over to the ministry in 2020, remain unknown.

The ministry is also still reeling from public backlash after the contracts of 144 elite athletes were not renewed ahead of three major events this year – the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and the SEA Games.

It is understood that no serious effort was made to obtain funds from the Finance Ministry prior to Ahmad Faizal occupying the top seat in Wisma KBS. But he stopped short of blaming anyone for the fiasco, insisting he would find ways to ensure that shortage of funds will not disrupt the athletes’ training programmes.

Just like Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican and Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who only enjoyed a brief stint in Wisma KBS, time is also not on Ahmad Faizal’s side. But he seemed unperturbed by it.

Ahmad Faizal, who has been in office some five months, has set his sights on a number of initiatives – sports for the masses being one of them, while the other is creating a safe environment for women and children in sports.

“Whatever time I have in office, I’ll make sure we carry out initiatives that will impact the people.

“Youth and sports activities must be for all, and the best way to do so is to organise events that cater to every level of the Malaysian population,” he added.