The year was 2012. It was a chilly May 10 morning in Melbourne, Australia.
National cycling coach John Beasley was waiting at the doorstep of The Hotel Windsor, located along Spring Street, at 7am sharp, as promised.
He was to pick me up and drive me to Elite Sports Gym, which was located in the suburbs. It is there that Beasley trained our national cyclists – Azizulhasni Awang, then without the title ‘Datuk’, Josiah Ng, Fatehah Mustapa, Malek Marcus Mccrone, and Jupha Somnet.
Last week, Beasley said he hoped to see a velodrome built in every state in the country. This is not new.
It reminded me of a paper he shared following my visit in 2012 – ‘Future ideas for enhancing the sport of cycling within Malaysia’.
In his paper, he said that to support a growing interest, and hopefully expand participation at the youth level, we must also have the facilities to cater to it.
“In much of our discussions over the years, both electronically and in person, the topic of building facilities has been raised regularly,” Beasley wrote.
“Why is this important now? Well essentially, if the top-level athletes are the spark that ignites the interest of our young men and women, then we need to look at ways that we can help the public connect with the athletes.”
He said one way was by having a venue that would enable major events to be hosted.
When Beasley wrote this, there were two outdoor cycling tracks in the country – the Velodrome Rakyat in Ipoh in the northern state of Perak, and the Kuala Lumpur Velodrome in Cheras.
The velodrome in Ipoh, the nation’s first, is in a deplorable state. The velodrome in Cheras has since been demolished.
However, the nation now has an indoor National Velodrome in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan – which was built in time for the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.
Beasley’s writing then was sparked by an email from Daryl Woodford, whose son Travis had then represented Singapore in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.
Woodford reached out to Beasley as the former was to assist the Singapore Cycling Federation to prepare a feasibility study on the benefits of building a world-class velodrome in the republic.
So why build an expensive, niche, world-class facility?
According to Beasley, such an arena can essentially become the sporting hub of Southeast Asia. Foreign teams, beyond the region, could also fly in to have training camps, and may even choose to train at such a facility before upcoming world cup events.
“For example, teams from Europe may spend time in Asia before taking a short flight to Melbourne for an upcoming event. Equally, European nations with savage winters may choose Malaysia as a training base, given the favourable weather conditions all year round.
“Ultimately, it may even win you the right to host a major cycling event of your own, should that be a goal,” Beasley added.
What is required to make such a facility economically viable?
Beasley said such a facility had to possess multi-purpose qualities. Cycling alone would not be enough to generate year-long revenue in all probability, but it may be the catalyst to build an environment that can.
“If you built a velodrome that was able to play host to multiple sports, then potentially, you have multiple revenue streams.
“For example, if you constructed a track that had a seating capacity of say 5,000 (a big crowd for cycling), but had a basketball court-like flooring in the centre, then all of the sudden, you can use the pit area.
“You may be able to have Taraflex flooring come in for events such as table tennis, volleyball, sepak takraw, and even badminton. You could even have a squash court in the centre for squash events, so that the original seating does not need to change.
“While no two sports events would ever occur at the same time, you have the option of changing the purpose of the venue, given the requirements at the time. The Hisense Arena (Melbourne) and Appledoorn multi-purpose venue (in the Netherlands) may better illustrate my description,” Beasley added.
That was just one of the very many papers Beasley had shared. I’m sure the Australian has also shared his views with the prime stakeholders in Malaysia.
It’s best for the policymakers to look at Beasley’s rather timeless suggestion, and gauge if the velodrome in Nilai is truly sustainable. The decision-makers should also see what can be done to encourage the construction of multi-sporting venues in the states that also boast a cycling track, given the rather weak economy that’s expected in 2023.
Hopefully, Beasley’s wish of a cycling track in every state comes true. The sport, after all, had been earmarked as a podium contender at several Olympics for Malaysia.
While a multi-purpose sporting venue will connect people with various sports, a building alone will be nothing but a waste of funds. It must be injected with activities, with a game plan, and with soul.
We have to then sit back and ask ourselves, what is the use of building more infrastructure if there are little to zero plans to turn them into centres of excellence?