KL Sports Industry Expo chance to revive sports scene, GE15 notwithstanding

It was a gathering of sorts at the parking area right outside the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, early yesterday.

Spotlights danced to the tune of the blaring music as Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu launched the 2022 Kuala Lumpur Sports Industry Expo.

Joining Ahmad Faizal on stage was his deputy, Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker.

There were familiar faces from the national sports scene. Others seized the opportunity to be seen – and to discuss politics.

The expo started on the day when talks of a looming general election heightened. Cabinet members from Perikatan Nasional had, earlier this week, sent a letter to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, stressing that GE15 should not take place anytime soon, as Malaysia braces for the monsoon season.

Barisan Nasional (BN), specifically Umno, however, remains adamant that the elections be held soon. In 1999, Malaysians went to the polls in November.

A guest at the expo was overheard saying: “The parties have not even printed their t-shirts, caps, and banners, and yet, they are pushing for elections.”

Ahmad Faizal is the deputy president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia. Ti, meanwhile, is the vice-president of MCA – a BN component party.

Despite their political bosses not seeing eye to eye, Ahmad Faizal and Ti remained cordial, both on stage and during their walkabout in the makeshift halls. There were, in fact, moments when the duo were seen whispering to each other, sharing a light moment or two.

Ahmad Faizal and Ti at the Safe Sport booth.

And this was the mood the exhibitors and panellists were hoping for – civility in the face of the divisive and rancorous politics that seemed to dominate the headlines. Equally important was the message of the singularity of purpose – for policymakers, especially those from the Finance Ministry, to recognise and champion the multi-billion ringgit sports industry.

For them, the expo, which ends on Sunday, is a good platform to network, exchange notes, and form new collaborations.

In his speech, Ahmad Faizal thanked the head of the National Sports Industry Secretariat, Mustaza Ahmad, and his small crew, for organising the expo. It may not be perfect, but the minister hoped that the expo would serve as the main platform for stakeholders and the people to find out more, and get involved in the local sports industry.

From cutting-edge technology, modern equipment, to sports-related healthcare services, the exhibitors are eager to seek new opportunities in an industry that was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sports in Malaysia was the first to shut down and among the last to be allowed to reopen during the various lockdowns imposed at the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Many operators and service providers were forced to shutter their businesses.

As things slowly return to pre-Covid days, the last thing the stakeholders want is another distraction that would derail their plans to bounce back – the national polls being one such distraction.

One of the highlights of the expo is an ongoing symposium that deals with, among other things, digitalisation in sports, as part of the industry’s efforts to rise from the ashes of Covid-19.

A series of speakers have been lined up to share their insights on a variety of issues affecting Malaysian sports and the sports industry.

Former internationals like Reduan Abdullah (football) and Shahlin Zulkifli (bowling) and representatives from a number of national sports bodies were among those who sat in for a talk by Prof Datuk Dr Amin Taff regarding today’s digital world.

Amin, who is the deputy chancellor of Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, reminded participants of the need to embrace digitalisation. He noted that there were still national associations that didn’t have an online presence.

There was also a talk about sports from an economic standpoint, presented by International Trade and Industry Ministry secretary-general Datuk Lokman Hakim Ali, and another on science, technology, and innovation in sports, by National Sports Institute chief executive officer, Ahmad Faedzal Ramli.

While the setting on the outside looks simple – makeshift tents surrounded by food trucks tucked in a designated space in the parking area – it is the conversations and decisions made inside those tents, or over food, that are more meaningful, with the hope that they will extend beyond this expo.

The silver lining of the day had to be a revelation from a ranking officer from the Youth and Sports Ministry that the much-awaited National Sports Vision 2030 blueprint will finally be revealed on Saturday, in conjunction with the National Sports Day.

That will set the agenda and ensure that every sports industry initiative will be aligned with the bigger national picture – to create a healthy and prosperous sporting nation.