Nauraj Singh

‘Athletes are in the dark’

In an environment where officialdom is often glorified, a national elite athlete has decided to be honest with his assessment of the Malaysian sports scene. And it is anything but flattering.

High jumper Nauraj Singh Randhawa revealed how incompetent and short-sighted officials have derailed training programmes for national athletes. He also felt for his teammates who generally keep mum for fear of being penalised.

The lanky 1.93m athlete also revealed his battle with depression.

The winner of three SEA Games gold medals (2013 Naypyidaw, 2015 Singapore and 2017 Kuala Lumpur), who took part in the 2016 Rio Olympics and holds the national record of 2.30m, shared his insights with Twentytwo13 over the weekend, hours before leaving for a short training-cum-competition stint in Australia.

Twentytwo13: What are your thoughts about the management of sports, specifically athletics, in Malaysia today?

Nauraj: We had something really good going on. Right now we’re doing the best we can with what we have. Many athletes left. There are also concerns regarding welfare and the (youth and sports) minister is trying to tackle them but we already had a plan before. I feel things were good under the Podium Programme. It should have been fine-tuned and enhanced.

Twentytwo13: The incompetency among officials is evident, isn’t it?

Nauraj: We could have sent a team to Teheran (Teheran International Indoor Athletics Championships) but we weren’t informed. Only a select few knew about it. Why? If there’s an invitation or competition, the association should contact the head coach, the head coach will then identify the athletes and subsequently notify the athletes via email or a letter. Not through WhatsApp or SMS. It’s all about being professional. Why is it a secret?

(Note: Malaysian Athletics Federation president Datuk Karim Ibrahim insisted all coaches were informed of the association’s decision through the chief coach and that he had “spoken to national high jumper Lee Hup Wei and others before the Perak Open”, as reported by Twentytwo13 on Monday.)

Twentytwo13: MAF president Karim Ibrahim was last year found not eligible to be an International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) council member and that the Court of Arbitration (CAS) has dismissed his appeal against IAAF to remove him. Yet, he is still the president here.

Nauraj: And I’m sitting here wondering why (he is still president). We had a peaceful situation when we had Datuk Zainal (Abidin Ahmad), who knew he wasn’t an expert and brought in a technical director (Robert Ballard) to help him make the right decisions. This is what leaders should do.

Twentytwo13: It must be tough for athletes, including yourself?

Nauraj: Yes. In fact, I was battling depression the whole of last year. There were so many contributing factors … personal issues, issues related to my performances and I was juggling with injuries. It was also a major transition in my life where I achieved 2.30m in 2017 and was pushing myself to do even better, to push the bar higher. I was also disturbed by those who criticised without having any clue what it’s like to be an athlete. I wasn’t able to handle these problems well then. I worked with my sports psychologist at the National Sports Institute and I’m glad to say I’m able to handle things better now.

Twentytwo13: Why reveal all this now?

Nauraj: We are now in a situation where we know nothing about anything. We are in the dark. We are still unsure what our programmes are. We don’t know what competition we are participating in. All these did not happen during (former youth and sports minister) Khairy Jamaluddin’s time.

Twentytwo13: Have you met the new youth and sports minister?

Nauraj: I bumped into him during an event recently. It was hi and bye. I remember him congratulating me over Twitter (for breaking the national indoor high jump record by recording 2.19m at the inaugural Erdgas Indoor Athletics Championships in Chemnitz, Germany on Feb 10). I replied by saying if we could have a chat. He said sure and had told his representatives to arrange. But I’ve not heard from anyone till now.

Syed Saddiq's tweet
Nauraj’s Twitter conversation with the youth and sports minister.

Twentytwo13: Aren’t you afraid of being penalised? In Malaysia, those in power generally don’t like individuals who ask questions, who seek answers.

Nauraj: I’m being honest. I could have just quietly gone to Australia, train hard, compete in the Australian Athletics Championships (April 1-7) and get good results. But no, I’m doing this for everyone in the team. I’ve been told in the past not to make (critical) comments but, hey, I’m here sitting with you. Why should I be penalised for being honest? I just want what’s best for Malaysian sports.

Twentytwo13: What is your take on officials and stakeholders who continue to harp about the good old days?

Nauraj: The level of competition back then and now is different. Just look at the records worldwide. Most are from the present while the exceptional few are from the past. It doesn’t mean that we have not been progressing but other countries have progressed even further. We should be talking about the future. But that’s the culture in Malaysia, it’s often talking about the past and the other culture, afraid of being penalised.

Twentytwo13: It’s often ‘do what I say’ and don’t ask any questions, isn’t it?

Nauraj: If that’s the culture, then don’t expect any progress.