Can Malaysian sports industry survive another lockdown?

It has not been a smooth journey for Jeya (not his real name) since March 2020.

When the Movement Control Order (MCO) kicked in on March 18, he had to shut his gymnasium in Petaling Jaya.

He only reopened during Recovery MCO which began on June 10.

“Business picked up, but after the Sabah elections (Sept 20), the number of cases went up. Conditional MCO was reimposed (Oct 14) and business suffered badly,” said Jeya. “I’ve barely broken even.”

As Covid-19 cases in Malaysia continue to surge, those in the sports industry fear the dreaded announcement – that could be made today – of another lockdown.

Jeya doubts his landlord would reduce the rent and banks would offer an automatic moratorium – a delay in the payment of debts – as was the case last year.

“If another MCO happens, I may have to close my business. My friends in the industry feel the same too.”

So what is the alternative?

“I may sound selfish, but one way is to stop interstate travel.

“I know this will hurt the tourism sector, but the minute interstate travel was allowed, people starting travelling like it was 2019.

“And we can’t have elections at this point in time. Look at what happened after the Sabah election.”

Beside gymnasium operators and those who run futsal and badminton courts, private coaches like swimming instructors, football coaches and martial arts trainers have found it tough.

A possible MCO 2.0 could also threaten the M-League as the 2021 season starts next month and further disrupt the national athletes’ preparation ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Veteran sports administrator Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz said bitter pills are needed.

“Health and safety are of paramount importance … so it’s not a matter of affording but surviving the ailment,” Dr Ramlan said.

He is keen to see how the United Kingdom manages its lockdown which allows the Premier League and other football competitions and selected sports to continue, albeit without spectators.

“It can be done but requires the strictest compliance with no compromise – no room for looseness or lackadaisical attitude.

“Can we do that? I doubt it, sorry … looking at the available evidence and behavioural realities in our society. Bitter pills only work if the treatment regime is fully complied with.

“In the end, as we say, ‘tepuk dada, tanya selera’.”

Where do we go from here?

A lockdown is inevitable. But to prolong it for more than four weeks would be a disaster for many sectors and sub-sectors especially those related to sports and entertainment.

That’s the reality.

Ironically, it was the entertainers and personal trainers who kept the people sane through their acting, singing and HIIT (high-intensity internal training) workouts online, during the last lockdown.

The country cannot afford another gloomy financial year.

At the same time, the health service cannot be further taxed with Covid-19 patients.

A fine balance needs to be struck and it lies with us.

Every one of us can play a part by staying indoors as much as possible. Only go out – for work or to workout – when required.

Follow the standard operating procedures strictly and avoid crowded areas.

If gymnasiums and sports centres want to operate, there must be strict enforcement – and it starts with the operators, trainers and coaches.

Otherwise, they too would have to swallow the bitter pill.