Many studies on Malaysian sports but what have we really learnt?

Research. Study. Repeat.

No one reads. It will be amazing if anyone reads this article beyond the third paragraph.

That is the reality surrounding most aspects of life – including Malaysian sports.

Malaysian sports’ biggest opponents are not athletes of other countries.

The biggest and toughest opponents are the so-called guardians of sports at every level who generally refuse to read, let alone embrace changes.

And these opponents continue winning year in year out as the nation struggles on to inject a sporting culture in its people.

The Podium Enhancement Task Force Panel was formed to look into the Podium Programme. It had an interesting mix – from an experienced medical expert (Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz), an official from the Olympic Council of Malaysia who happens to be the son of a former Prime Minister (Datuk Nazifuddin Najib) to a former Olympian (Maninderjit Singh).

It also had administrators who once donned national colours.

They met some 30-odd personalities of various backgrounds. They listened, deliberated, shared their experiences and eventually the task force submitted its findings to Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican on Sept 17.

Will anyone read those findings? And will any of those findings be taken into consideration? Will the findings of the task force be taken into consideration by the next Youth and Sports Minister since talk of a general election taking place soon heightens?

Those who have been in the industry long enough will reply with a big fat NO.

Why?

In 2011, Scotland’s University of Stirling undertook a comprehensive study on ways to improve Malaysian sports.

Who read it? And what have we learnt from it?

In 2015, Brian Miller (Australia), Phil Borgeaud (Australia), Roslyn Carbon (Britain), Richard Charlesworth (Australia) and Alan Black (Australia) carried out a 11-week study and submitted the findings to the Youth and Sports Ministry.

How many officials actually read the report?

For the record, the 2015 report revealed, among others:

  • The vast majority of interviewees (over 130 key stakeholders) said they were pleased that the review was being undertaken, but were skeptical about a genuine appetite for change within the Malaysian system.
  • A sizeable portion of the respondents said there similar reviews in the last five years did not achieve anything.
  • A significant number of respondents also stated that Malaysians were uncomfortable with change and the system would be contented to continue to under-achieve.

And there’s this:

“The five major stakeholder bodies involved in high-performance sports in Malaysia (Youth and Sports Ministry, Olympic Council of Malaysia, National Sporting Associations, Sports Council and Sports Institute) have no apparent alignment of purpose. It is unclear if there is one unified vision as to what Malaysia should be capable of achieving on the Asian, Commonwealth or global stage.

“Across the 130+ interviews, only a handful of people could describe a vision and mission for high-performance sports in Malaysia. This lack of co-ordination is alarming.

“It has led to a situation where conflicting and competing political agendas within the system are costing young Malaysians a chance to achieve success on a global or regional stage. This situation is all the worse because it is ‘self-inflicted’ and has been described by many interviewees as being endemic within the system.”

The report added too many influential people seem to believe that winning internal battles is more important than winning medals or achieving results.

“As long as this is the prevailing environment surrounding high-performance sport in Malaysia, little or no progress will be made, and young Malaysian athletes will be the ones who pay the price of this internal conflict.”

It was also highlighted that “disappointingly during the 11-week study” only a handful of people used the words “partnerships” or “collaboration”.

“In most interviews, the respondents took the opportunity to blame other agencies or individuals, and on only a handful of occasions did the interviewee accept any responsibility for the performance or behaviour of their sport or their agency. People freely acknowledge that the current high-performance sports system in Malaysia is broken, but very few of them accept any responsibility for the situation. Staff working in the medical and paramedical field within the National Sports Institute were the only people who acknowledged the part they played in this unhappy situation.”

The keyword here – broken.

And while much attention is on elite athletes, little thought is placed on the grassroots. This has been highlighted repeatedly over the years. Yet, the talent pool is less than desirable.

The lack of emphasis on reaching out to the masses, getting them involved in sports, will only result in failure to embrace a sporting culture.

Malaysians do play sports. But it’s not consistent. It’s not on a large scale. It’s not something they pick up throughout their lives.

And it’s even worse among women where a whole lot of them lose interest in sports at a really young age due to many factors, including lack of parental support, lack of education and a judgmental society – something which could have been easily addressed decades ago.

Alas, it’s back to research-study-talk-repeat; with the false hope of expecting Malaysia to excel against athletes who are already decades ahead of us in every aspect.

So what should be done?

Start by reading the reports. Stakeholders should pay attention to the recommendations and be honest with themselves and have the political will to make a difference. It’s really as simple as that.

It is hoped the recommendations made by Dr Ramlan and his crew will be looked into seriously.

It is also hoped that the guardians of sports read the 2011 and 2015 reports, and that the Podium Enhancement Task Force Panel’s report be made public so that it too would serve as a guide.

Otherwise we will continue screaming ‘Majulah (kemelut) sukan untuk negara‘.