Elections over, now MAF needs to do some real ‘running’ of its own

Punches were thrown in the air. There was plenty of hugging, and some grown men and women – and at least one armed with a hankie – shed tears of joy.

Malaysia did not win the 100m gold medal in the Olympics. Nor had any of those engaged in the raucous celebrations struck the 4D jackpot.

This was the scene after Datuk S.M. Muthu lost the Malaysia Athletics Federation (MAF) presidency over the weekend. The election was held at the Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur.

Muthu lost by four votes – 20-16 – to Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim – who is no stranger to the athletics and sports scene in the country.

In fact, Shahidan is a familiar face and wears a variety of hats, running sports associations, while being in the government. Currently, Shahidan is the Federal Territories Minister.

One would have expected fireworks, a scene rather synonymous with Dataran Merdeka and MAF, but there were only several “pop-pops”, most notably when Datuk Karim Ibrahim, who is clearly aligned to Shahidan, got into an argument with security for not being allowed into the room.

A more conducive venue would have been Wisma OCM. And by extension, getting the Olympic Council of Malaysia involved would have been better, all in the name of transparency. Yet, it is understood that such calls had fallen on deaf ears.

Soon after the announcement was made, Shahidan met the press but had nothing new to offer. He uttered some diplomatic, rhetorical spiel, and assured the media that he would issue a statement after the first meeting with the new council members.

Eyebrows were raised as Muthu, who was forced to put on a smile throughout the press conference, managed to amass 16 votes – a clear indication that he remains popular among the affiliates.

Yet, Muthu had come under attack by several former, and current athletes, including high jumpers Lee Hup Wei and Nauraj Singh, who had been vocal in calling for change.

The athletics scene in Malaysia has been pretty much on the decline for decades.

Muthu, when asked if he had anything to say to the athletes who had attacked him, said officials must be allowed to do their jobs, instead of being undermined. It remains unclear if he will return with a vengeance in the next elections.

Shahidan, who is Perlis Athletics Association president, and was MAF boss from 2006 to 2012, instead touched on the need to win the trust of the athletes.

However, it will take more than just words to convince the athletes and coaches that there will truly be changes within MAF.

In moving forward, MAF has to activate its grassroots programme and ensure that every state – especially Perlis – is developing talents.

MAF must continuously engage with the athletes and show that it is competent, and able to operate within a professional setup before it can win the trust of the stakeholders.

If there was one person MAF can take the cue from during the press conference – it was veteran journalist Frankie D’Cruz.

D’Cruz, from Free Malaysia Today, fired a barrage of questions before Shahidan could leave. He was on the ball and relentless in his enquiries.

Shahidan and company will also have to be on the ball and feel the pulse of the athletes and coaches at all levels.

Failure to do so would risk incurring the wrath of their stakeholders who are no longer willing to show mercy to officials and officialdom.

Getting lambasted by our national heroes will not look good on any politician’s resume – especially with the general election looming.

It’s time MAF did some running of its own.