Tan Wee Kiong and Goh V Shem

‘Going independent means being truly independent’

The aim was to complement the local badminton scene.

Yet, it was sorely misconstrued – especially by the territorial and powerful few.

Now, slightly over a decade later, there seems to be a realisation that clubs are the way forward in Malaysia.

In the past, KLRC Berhad and Nusa Mahsuri were among the two active badminton clubs that gave a breath of fresh air to the scene.

Nevertheless, the then powers-that-be viewed these clubs as threats for luring players to quit the national stable.

KLRC Bhd, owned by gold mine tycoon and lawyer Datuk Seri Andrew Kam, had paid the likes of Ang Li Peng, Lee Tseun Seng and Sairul Amar Ayob up to RM2,000 a month in wages with further incentives if the players won a championship.

The club even had Olympian Cheah Soon Kit as its executive coach.

The bitter battle between the BA of Malaysia (BAM) and KLRC Berhad heightened when the national association found out that Andrew was eyeing for a post in the Badminton World Federation (BWF).

In 2012, Andrew offered a 12.5kg gold bar, then worth RM2 million, to any Malaysian shuttler who returned from the London Olympics with a gold medal – an idea that struck him while having a shower.

This received worldwide attention, irking BAM even further.

KLRC eventually bowed out from the limelight, and it was back to square one for the fraternity that continued to bank on the one and only Datuk Lee Chong Wei.

In recent times, however, there have been winds of change.

Following Pakatan Harapan’s May 9 victory, the change of leadership in Putrajaya has resulted in the administrators tightening their belts across all ministries. Corporations which adopted a wait-and-see approach since post May 9 continue to remain skeptical of investing in sports as analysts have warned of an economically challenging 2019.

Several national athletes have quit BAM in recent weeks, the latest being men’s doubles pair Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong who will effectively leave on Jan 5.

And BAM isn’t overly perturbed over the departure of the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallists.

What this means is that the allocation for these players can now be channelled to junior shuttlers and development programmes.

An insider said shuttlers are most welcome to go independent as this would mean independent from all parties including the national association and the Youth and Sports Ministry through the National Sports Council (NSC).

“They will be empowered. Going independent would motivate them to do better,” said the ranking official.

“But let’s get one thing clear, going independent means being independent. Of course the association and the government will assist in every way possible but it’s unfair for any party to expect the same treatment they received while being in the national body.”

Simply put, the players should pay for every service they receive unless it is for an upcoming major multi-sport competition involving the national contingent.

And going independent means athletes can choose who they want to train with and their training regime. After all, they will be forking out their own money for such services.

Such independence would also see athletes being bolder in speaking out against policies that do more harm than good for the sport.

Those who go independent should not be penalised or seen as “traitors”. They should be applauded for making way for other athletes to go up the ranks within the national association.

In fact, national associations should not be solely responsible for developing and nurturing talents as the task also lies with (the often inactive) state badminton associations and clubs. Today, there are some 20 clubs participating in the Purple League. These clubs are playing their part in promoting the sport especially at the grassroots.

It is understood plans are under way to empower more clubs and include them in the ecosystem. This would result in clubs creating more talents for the national team. Or this could see more shuttlers turning to clubs in their bid to “go independent”.

This should be seen as a step in the right direction because regardless of the athlete’s affiliation, only the best should represent the country.

If only clubs like Nusa Mahsuri and KLRC Berhad had been embraced instead of demonized in the early days, we could have seen more clubs mushrooming.

Better late than never.