Of dismantling ‘roadblocks’ faced by athletes, and Dr Ramlan’s return to yet another elite sports programme

The word “roadblock” littered the press conference at Menara KBS in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative capital, this morning.

The word, in fact, was first highlighted by Datuk Azizulhasni Awang, when the Road To Gold (RTG) programme was launched last month.

Azizulhasni, the nation’s finest cyclist, was among the 15 athletes earmarked under the RTG – another bullish programme by the government to win Malaysia’s elusive gold medal at the Olympics. The athletes, however, will undergo a periodic review, giving room for other athletes to be a part of this exclusive fraternity.

While the “roadblock” was not clearly identified, it is believed to refer to the hurdles faced by athletes in dealing with the government agencies under the ministry – namely the National Sports Council (NSC) and the National Sports Institute (NSI).

Right after the press conference ended, this writer received several messages, including one that read: “Removing roadblocks means having a committee that will ask (athletes) ‘What do you need to win the gold (medal)?’ and to see if the request is reasonable”.

“It also seems that the government has found a convenient way of avoiding liability if things go south, as it can now say ‘We have given everything that was requested by the athletes’,” the message read.

But there are those who insist that removing “roadblocks” simply meant adopting a “facilitative attitude”, where the stakeholders will now be seeking solutions instead of coming up with excuses – if the requests by the athletes warrant action, that is.

It must be pointed out that there were instances in the past where requests made by athletes were honoured, but the results were not forthcoming.

As highlighted repeatedly during the press conference, the RTG will “top up” the services required by the athletes, who are already undergoing their respective training programmes.

And filling a glaring gap in the RTG is seasoned sports administrator Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz. During the press conference, it was revealed that Dr Ramlan and Olympian Josiah Ng will assume the role of technical assistants to RTG coordinator, Stuart Michael Ramalingam.

While the RTG committee boasts individuals with impressive resumes, and some are associated with world bodies, none of them has spearheaded an elite sports programme for a multi-sports event like the Olympics. The RTG is, after all, a steering committee that is heavily reliant on data from the NSC and NSI.

Such steering committees are not new, as Dr Ramlan can attest. The music-lover had once served NSC as its director-general, the NSI as the chief executive officer, and most recently, led the Podium Programme Enhancement Committee.

Dr Ramlan is no stranger to most of the athletes on the RTG’s initial list revealed today. He has worked closely with the likes of Azizulhasni, diver Datuk Pandelela Rinong, and with the national shuttlers, as he is a part of the Akademi Badminton Malaysia (ABM) technical panel.

“As long as my body and mind allow me to help, I’ll help,” said Dr Ramlan, who was at ABM in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, this morning.

“This is an extension of my work, what I’ve done all these years. In a way, I would love to try to achieve what we have never achieved (in the past), for various reasons.

“We need to individually, and collectively, see what we have learnt from our past challenges and to put things right. This is never a vertical approach. What we do today will set the tone, both in terms of programme management and performance management,” he added.

He stressed that the committee should never leave any stone unturned.

“We cannot ignore any red flags. While the practice has always been to highlight what went wrong, it is also important to find out what went right, following a victory. If we know what it takes to win, then we have the basis for a foundation to work on,” he added.