Consider ‘remote talent identification plan’ to unearth sports stars

Noraseela Khalid admits life in Kuching has been an eye-opener. For starters, the former national hurdler said, many Sarawakians are a disciplined lot.

“You don’t have to worry about telling them to wear their face masks. They will automatically put one on,” said Noraseela.

But that isn’t the only thing that caught the Olympian’s attention.

Now serving as the sprints and hurdles elite coach for the Sarawak Sports Council, Noraseela said the Borneo state is blessed with plenty of resources and talents.

Some of the young talents Noraseela is training are Erissca Peter (100m), Dion Dexter Kedang Anak David Harden (200m), Ivan Bong Jing Zhe (400m), Muhammad Ihsan Wan Hasimi (200 & 400m), Chloe Thong Yueh (400 & 400m hurdles), William Mawan Anak Ekom (400m hurdles), Alif Zaini (800m), Alvine Jostine, Mohd Norhazim Ahmad (110m hurdles), Emma Hill Yu Wei Ling and Veralyna Anak Bill (100m hurdles).

These youngsters have big shoes to fill as Sarawak has produced some fine athletes in various disciplines – from the days of Olympian Kuda Ditta, a hurdler, (who later changed his name to Bala Ditta) and shuttler Ong Poh Lim to the likes of sprinter Watson Nyambek, swimmer Welson Sim, diver Pandelela Rinong, and hammer throwers Jackie Wong Siew Cheer and Grace Wong Xiu Mei.

However, she admits the state has been somewhat overlooked, especially by those across the South China Sea.

“Perhaps, it’s the distance, or maybe because the state is quite independent and has the resources,” she said.

“But there are many youngsters in the interiors who may have the potential to go far. Due to their backgrounds and perhaps the activities they carry out in their villages, most of these youngsters are already well-built.”

Such a poser – wondering if we have truly combed the whole of Malaysia to unearth talents – is not new.

Much has been written and spoken about combing the nation in search of the best but it’s apparent little has been done to find our hidden gems.

Sarawak is the biggest state in the nation and many of the villages are hours, if not days, apart from the nearest township. Some are forced to not only trek jungles but to brave the rivers to get to their destination.

“This, perhaps, is why parents are willing to send their children for competitions outside their villages or districts. I don’t blame them,” added Noraseela.

So how do we fix this? Do we just accept such an excuse and forget that an Olympic star could actually hail from the interiors?

This is not just a Sarawak problem. It’s the same everywhere in the country.

In an ideal sporting environment, there should be competitions at the village and district levels so that these talents can be identified. These athletes will then be sent to competitions outside their localities to pit them against the best in the state.

There should be some form of an incentive to get these youngsters to compete outside their villages. Assure the parents that they are in good hands by providing proper transportation and accommodation.

If it’s too much for the state sports council to bear, it’s best they get businesses in the locality to help support a child athlete.

The ‘remote talent identification’ plan can be part of a company’s corporate social responsibility project. In return, the state governments (or even Federal Government) can offer some form of tax rebate as an incentive to the companies.

For a small investment, we could very well see the birth of a new Olympian. Otherwise, the journey would at least allow the child to experience the sporting world outside his or her neighbourhood.

This is not rocket science and has been suggested many times before.

Hopefully, the powers-that-be will finally take on the responsibility to be the conduit that will allow youngsters from the remote areas a chance to showcase their capabilities.