Feed athletes’ hunger for success, or risk riding on past glories

Sports, in some countries, is often seen as a way out of poverty. It is where athletes push themselves to the limit to emerge at the top of their game and hope that the prize money will put food on their family’s table, and a roof over their heads.

But such hunger is absent in Malaysia.

Here, athletes who show a modicum of talent – even before winning anything – are already enjoying perks. In fact, some even demand it.

These athletes get monthly allowances and are given the best training facilities and are sent abroad for tournaments. They don’t have to fork out any funds, and when they do win competitions, the prize money is all theirs.

When a sport fails to deliver, it is only natural for the respective governing body to be taken to task. Especially when it fails with frightening consistency.

Criticism against the office bearers will come hard and fast, with voices pressuring them to step down. Officials who can’t stand the heat should just step aside.

Football in Malaysia has been in the doldrums for decades. The latest to receive flak is the Badminton Association of Malaysia, following the Malaysian shuttlers’ early exit from the Thomas Cup.

But the problem didn’t happen overnight.

School badminton club – minus shuttlecocks and coaches

On Saturday, Twentytwo13 executive editor Graig Nunis revealed that his daughter’s school badminton club did not give shuttlecocks to the students, and neither was there a teacher coaching them. The same is happening in other schools, involving other sports, too.

School authorities will claim that they don’t have the expertise, nor the money to purchase equipment or hire a coach. Getting an outsider for a school activity also poses some security issues. However, there are schools that have taken the initiative to coach their students, instead of coming up with a string of excuses.

Now, imagine if 20 students from just 200 schools nationwide are coached consistently, and play regularly, throughout the year. That’s a talent pool of 4,000, annually. And these are extremely conservative figures.

Much has been said and written about it, yet there doesn’t seem to be any motivation to address this at the schools – mainly by the Education Ministry.

The Kuala Lumpur BA is planning to work with schools and private clubs in the city on such an initiative. Hopefully, this will start the ball rolling and we will soon see similar cooperation between other state and district BAs and schools.

Still harping on past glories, banking on one player

Sports bodies must do away with harping on past glories. Many tend to remind fans about the achievements recorded decades ago. But what is more important is what’s ahead, and why they, as fans, should continue to be loyal to the sport.

Associations should also do away with their dependence on one or two players. There are those who believe BAM was guilty of that when it paid so much attention to Datuk Lee Chong Wei. As a result, Malaysia is still chasing the elusive gold medal at the Olympics.

In 1992, the Malaysian side had a fairly balanced team in the form of the Sidek brothers – Rashid (singles), Razif-Jalani (men’s doubles), Foo Kok Keong (men’s singles) and the other doubles pair of Cheah Soon Kit-Soo Beng Kiang.

That was the team that edged Indonesia 3-2 at Stadium Negara. That was the last time Malaysia won the prestigious Thomas Cup. Thirty years on, there are those who still harp about that glorious outing, with nary a clue on how to chart a course for the new era.

Today, the fascination seems to be on Lee Zii Jia, but he is no longer under BAM’s stable, having opted to train independently.

There are those who believe that this is actually a good move, for the national body can now focus on the many other players within its stable, and give Zii Jia a run for his money.

Let’s also not forget the achievements of the younger shuttlers at the on-going SEA Games.

Malaysia needs good, strong clubs

There have been times when Malaysia has been accused of doing the same thing but expecting a different outcome. The sports system in Malaysia sees student-athletes mostly graduating from the schools. Those serious about sports, go on to book a place in sports schools. They later come under the national bodies and the National Sports Council.

As a result, many talents are often left unearthed, or go unnoticed. Clubs are in fact, the way forward, as evident in badminton-playing nations like Japan, Denmark, and India.

But there’s a catch – the clubs must be self-sufficient and run as a business entity to ensure sustainability.

There are many badminton clubs in Malaysia but not many can declare that they are professionally run. It’s the same with football. The transition of teams from FA to FC failed to tackle the issue of unpaid salaries. Professionalism continues to be booted out from the equation.

With a strong club system, shuttlers can then opt to play independently. This will allow the national body to focus on developing more players.

Some still believe that the players should not be allowed to leave, as the national and state bodies have invested heavily in them. It was also said that sponsors would shy away if the national, or state bodies did not have “stars” within their stable.

Zii Jia leaving BAM certainly didn’t stop a global brand like Petronas from investing millions with BAM. In fact, the deal is said to be the biggest in BAM’s history. That says a lot.

Badminton today is an open affair

Gone are the days when the badminton world was dominated by a handful of players. Given the current scenario, anyone can make it to the top.

In fact, Zii Jia could very well win Malaysia its first-ever Olympic gold medal in Paris 2024.

Let’s not forget, Zii Jia and the other national shuttlers won the Badminton Asia Team Championship in February. India played in that tournament, and so too, did Indonesia.

Malaysia has also had world junior champions, in the form of Zulfadli Zulkifli and Goh Jin Wei. But what happens from junior to senior? That transition should be looked at carefully.

It, however, must be noted that not all who win at the junior level will go on to become winners at the senior level.

Chak de, India!

India winning the Thomas Cup should be seen as an eye-opener.

One can only imagine the spillover effect of the victory there. The badminton industry will soar. Younger children, who often see cricket and hockey as a means of achieving celebrity-like status, may consider investing in a badminton racquet, instead.

Bollywood may be inspired, and a movie about the Thomas Cup victory would be another blockbuster, just like Chak De! India, Dangal and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. There’s just so much commercial potential, with badminton ending up as the main star.

The same can happen in Malaysia – but only if the powers-that-be adopted the bottom-top approach.

Unlike football, Malaysian badminton has so much potential in so many ways.

The guardians of sport – at every level and even in schools – must start encouraging more people, especially children, to pick up a game.

Otherwise, Malaysia will continue harping on past glories, while other nations make history.

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