Kabaddi, silambam bodies in ‘battle mode’ after being sidelined again, from Malaysia Games

Officials representing kabaddi and silambam are still reeling after learning that their sports will not be included in the 2024 Malaysia Games (Sukma).

Frustrated and angry, they also vowed to “battle it out” to ensure that both martial arts sports are included in the national Games scheduled in Sarawak next year.

“We are very upset,” said Kabaddi Association of Malaysia honorary secretary, E. Padmanathan @ Peter Gopi.

“Kabaddi is in the Asian Games, Asian Beach Games, and Asian Indoor (and Martial Arts) Games … Sukma is an important level for our exponents. It’s part of the graduation process.

“I’m surprised… Why is this high-level sport not included in Sukma?” Padmanathan asked.

On March 16, the Sukma Supreme Committee revealed that 32 sports would be contested in the Sarawak edition next year.

The committee is chaired by Youth and Sports Minister, Hannah Yeoh.

Padmanathan claimed no one informed him or his association about the decision that was made, and the reason why kabaddi was missing from the list of sports to be contested at next year’s Sukma.

He added that the association had voiced its frustrations regarding the issue on social media.

“We will fight for the sport to be a part of Sukma, even if it means writing to the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim),” he added.

Padmanathan said he had lost track of the number of times kabaddi had been a “demonstration sport”, and later included into the medal tally, only for it to be axed.

Silambam had also been a “demonstration sport” multiple times – thrice, to be exact (2004, 2008 and 2022). The sport was contested in the 2010, 2011, and 2013 Sukma Games, but was dropped in the later editions.

On Aug 16, 2022, the then Youth and Sports minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu, had said in the Dewan Negara, that kabaddi and silambam would be included as demonstration sports for the 20th edition of the Sukma, scheduled a month later.

He added that the sports were contested in the Asian Games, and that there was a need to expose Malaysian athletes to the sports.

However, both kabaddi and silambam were not contested as demonstration sports at last year’s Sukma. The competitions involving both sports were akin to a national championship held in conjunction with the national Games, as there were no representatives from both sports bodies in the Sukma technical committee that oversaw the technical aspects of the competitions.

Padmanathan confirmed this.

“I was made the technical director for my own sport. I was not part of the Sukma technical committee. Both kabaddi and silambam events were held at the Kampung Pandan Sports Complex.”

Malaysian Silambam Association president, A.N. Visvalingam was equally upset over the episode, adding that “this is not what a unity government is all about”.

“The previous (Youth and Sports) minister had said that silambam would be contested, yet we are still out of the next Sukma. Why?” asked Visvalingam.

Visvalingam even shared a cutting from a local vernacular daily (pic below) published last year, quoting former Youth and Sports Ministry secretary-general, Datuk M. Jana Santhiran, as saying that kabaddi and silambam would be a part of Sukma.

“We have been told formally about this decision. What we have heard is that our sport is not a high-performance sport, is not contested at the Olympics … we are not bothered by all that.

“We are active in the states. We told our young exponents about being a part of Sukma, and they were so excited. Being a part of Sukma will further promote the sport and encourage more people to be a part of it.

“This is Sukan Malaysia … you need to give priority to local sports. There’s silat and wushu … what’s wrong with giving silambam and even kabaddi the opportunity (to be a part of Sukma)?”

A Sukma transformation workshop organised by the National Sports Council (NSC) – an agency under the Youth and Sports Ministry – was held in Bangi last month.

The workshop was attended by the state sports councils, representatives from the Education Ministry, and the Youth and Sports Ministry. For the record, the national sports bodies do not come under the NSC.

The stakeholders of the workshop drew up a list of 28 sports, based on four categories:

Category 1: Olympic sports and athletes who qualified on merit at the last three Olympics (London 2012, Rio 2016, and Tokyo 2020). The 11 sports are aquatics, weightlifting, badminton, cycling, gymnastics, golf, fencing, archery, shooting, athletics, and sailing.

Category 2: Athletes with the potential to win medals from sports contested in the Asian, and Commonwealth Games, based on the last two Asian Games, and the last three Commonwealth Games. The four sports are hockey, judo, table tennis, and taekwondo.

Category 3: Non-Olympic sports, but contested at the Asian and Commonwealth Games, with its athletes being prospect medal winners based on the last two Asian Games, and the last three Commonwealth Games. The seven sports are karate, lawn bowls, silat, sepak takraw, squash, tenpin bowling and wushu.

Category 4: Popular sports played by a large number of Malaysians, contested in a structured manner, including at the Malaysian Schools Sports Council (MSSM) level, and with sufficient infrastructure in schools, and government and private premises. The six sports are football, rugby, netball, basketball, volleyball and tennis.

The findings of the workshop were handed over to the Sukma Supreme Committee, which is also represented by the Olympic Council of Malaysia – the umbrella body for national sports bodies in the country.

In addition to the 28 sports, the committee allowed Sarawak to include another four sports – boxing, muay thai, petanque, and e-Sports – to be a part of next year’s Sukma.

Visvalingam said he had first approached Batu Gajah MP, M. Sivakumar, last year, and that the lawmaker had played an instrumental role in getting former Youth and Sports minister Ahmad Faizal to commit to kabaddi and silambam being a part of the national Games.

Sivakumar now serves as the Human Resources Minister.

“I met Sivakumar yesterday … he said he will raise this matter with Hannah Yeoh. We are terribly upset about this,” said Visvalingam.

Visvalingam added that he had written to Yeoh seeking a meeting, and was still waiting for a response.

Visvalingam’s deputy, Dr M. Suraess, said not being a part of Sukma is a ‘great challenge” to silambam.

Dr Suraess, who is also the Kedah Silambam Association president, said there’s active participation from most states, with exponents gearing up for the 17th national tournament, scheduled in Johor, in October.

“Being a part of Sukma is the highest recognition in the country. This encourages more people to be a part of the sport,” said Dr Suraess.

“We are frustrated and I think we’re the only sport that has been a demonstration sport three times, and have not been included in the main Games,” he added.

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