Get NSC DG hopefuls to submit plans on how to manage elite sports in Malaysia

Here’s a trivia for the day. Who should be the next National Sports Council (NSC) director-general?

A) Arrifin Ghani
B) Jefri Ngadirin
C) Stuart Michael Ramalingam
D) Suhardi Alias

The list above was done in alphabetical order (although some may argue that it seems like the order of preference by certain quarters).

Whispers along the corridors within the NSC building have been building up, as to who will replace Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail in the hot seat.

Ahmad Shapawi, who was named director-general in December 2014, is set to leave in September.

The seat, without a doubt, comes with perks, but at a price.

It is a job where one not only gets to rub shoulders with the best athletes in the nation but also chart their fortunes. This is because most national sports associations in Malaysia are unable to stand on their own feet, requiring funding from the Youth and Sports Ministry via the NSC.

There’s also the high possibility of getting a Datukship, judging from the list of previous director-generals.

But it is also a position everyone loves to hate.

The NSC is not immune to criticism from athletes, officials from sports bodies, and even sports fans. A classic example was when FA of Malaysia president Datuk Hamidin Amin said the NSC, and not the Youth and Sports minister, was to blame for Malaysia’s dismal outing at the Cambodia SEA Games held in May.

The director-general will have to deal with ministers who come and go, and high-profile individuals who run sports bodies for years, if not decades.

So, who among the four has what it takes to survive the Malaysian sporting landscape?

The four come with impressive credentials, and it is unfair to condense their work over the years to just a few short paras.

Their current positions:

  • Arrifin –  deputy sports commissioner.
  • Jefri – NSC athlete division director.
  • Stuart – Malaysia Football League chief executive officer, programme coordinator for the Road to Gold programme and an NSC management board member.
  • Suhardi – one of two NSC deputy director-generals, with the other being Abdul Rashid Yaakub who will be retiring soon.

Here is where they should be tested. Each of them comes with specific skillsets, some more realistic and grounded than others, based on their past experiences.

Over and above the verbal interactions, it is best to get the candidates to submit their views on how the NSC and the Malaysian elite sports scene should evolve.

They should submit their short, middle, and long-term plans, touch on sustainability, and provide a fair and unbiased talent grooming process. This was done by the previous youth and sports minister, Khairy Jamaluddin the last time a new director-general was appointed to the post.

He must also enjoy the implicit trust of the Youth and Sports Minister, who is empowered by the NSC Act 1971 to appoint the director-general. A big plus point for the candidate is the ability to work well with other stakeholders – be they the government or non-government representatives.

The candidate must also be realistic when it comes to financial expenditure. In order to evolve, the council will need to focus on elite sports that provide merit and bring honour to the country.

It is up to the Youth and Sports Ministry to promote sports among the masses –  en route to creating a healthy, sporting nation – not the NSC.

The next director-general must be able to interact and maintain a healthy relationship with the athletes and sports bodies, and must never be cowed by individuals who are known to throw their weight and celebrity-like status around.

Above all, he should have the strategic thinking skills to develop elite sports outside the existing system that has come under great criticism of late.

The practice of promoting civil servants at the tail end of their careers in order to enjoy better pension must stop. Appointments must be based on merit. Period.

NSC is in dire need of a strong, visionary leader like Datuk Wira Mazlan Ahmad – who was given due recognition at the 2022 National Sports Award last night.

There are talks that Suhardi will head the Sports Commissioner’s Office, while the director-general seat is a toss-up between Arrifin and Jefri.

As for Stuart, it is highly unlikely that the government will be able to afford him – given his years of experience in sports commercialisation and marketing.

Some insist that hiring an outsider would help reset and reform the council. This too, may come at a price for the ‘outsider’, who could instead be side-tracked with putting out fires, with barely a year left to the Paris 2024 Olympics. The government’s bureaucratic process may also hinder his plans.

Arrifin, a former hockey international, spent many years in NSC and was its international preparations unit director before he was shipped out, on loan, to head the Melaka State Sports Council in 2019. He returned to NSC after his Melaka stint ended in April 2020.

On Dec 1, 2020, he was named deputy sports commissioner.

The slightly younger Jefri, meanwhile, has been a familiar face in recent times. He – together with Suhardi and Abdul Rashid – liaised with the Youth and Sports minister and her team, especially after Ahmad Shapawi suffered a stroke just days before the SEA Games began.

Many within and outside the NSC had touted Jefri as Ahmad Shapawi’s successor by virtue of having handled the high-performance programme for many years, and was instrumental in helping the Malaysian contingent deliver the 145 gold medal in the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in 2017.

It is unfortunate that no woman is being earmarked for the position. In the spirit of gender equity and equality, this is something for the decision-makers to consider – by encouraging more capable women leaders to make a name for themselves in the elite sports ecosystem.

Till then, may the best man win the race for the NSC hot seat. And may the Youth and Sports Minister, Hannah Yeoh, be given the divine inspiration to pick the right man for the job.