Much invested in grassroots sports but link broken when athletes go to varsity

We are not tapping enough athletes from our universities.

This is the sentiment of former hockey international Maninderjit Singh who is baffled with conversations centering on schools and elite levels but not on transition phases.

Most Malaysian students either get a place in public universities or they enrol in private colleges and universities.

“And this is where we see a huge dropout rate among student athletes,” said Maninderjit, who is better known as Mike.

“When I was in school, I wasn’t the best player. There were five, six players who were way better.

“But I continued playing after Form 5. Most of the good players stopped playing hockey when they entered university.”

Maninderjit went on to don the national colours and represented Malaysian in two Olympics (1996 and 2000) and two World Cups (1998 and 2002).

“Let’s face facts, there is not much emphasis on sports in universities. It’s purely academic.

“The stakeholders spend eight to 10 years investing in grassroots (schools) but the missing link is at the university level.”

Maninderjit pointed out that successful teams require thinking athletes.

“At the international level, it’s all about making split second decisions. You must be able to handle pressure as well. Thinking players make a difference.”

On top of the annual district, state and national level competitions for various age groups, the Education Ministry has several programmes for student athletes, including centralised training centres and sports schools. National sports associations either work closely with the ministry or carry out their own junior programmes which are outside the school system.

There are severeal notable events catering to varsity students – the Universiti Malaya Sports Council Carnival (Masum), the Malaysian Education Institutions Games (Sipma) and the Higher Learning Institute Sports (SUKIPT).

However, these programmes have come to a standstill this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.