Olympians’ contributions to nation-building should be on the menu at tomorrow’s luncheon with Sports Minister

Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh will have lunch tomorrow with seven Olympians representing the Malaysia Olympian Association.

It’s been a busy month in office for Malaysia’s newly-minted Youth and Sports Minister, Hannah Yeoh, who has a lot on her plate, and so much more to learn.

Yet, she has managed to set aside some time to have lunch tomorrow in Putrajaya with some of Malaysia’s finest athletes.

Yeoh is scheduled to sit down with seven Olympians, representing the Malaysia Olympian Association (MOA), at the luncheon at a Chinese restaurant in a leading hotel in the nation’s administrative capital.

The customary tossing of yee sang will obviously be observed, ahead of the Lunar New Year this weekend. The Olympians however, hope that the Year of the Water Rabbit brings better fortunes to MOA and to the welfare of the nation’s stars who donned the national colours at the Summer and Winter Games.

The MOA is not just an association of past heroes. It also boasts several present stars. More importantly, the association is eager to show that it has what it takes to help in nation-building.

Sports remain the best glue to bring together a somewhat fractured, divided Malaysia, evident in the results of the nation’s 15th General Election on Nov 19, 2022.

The record number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among Malaysians compared to the rest of Southeast Asia is another catalyst to create an active and sporting nation.

These Olympians are perfectly positioned to act as ambassadors for such causes.

But before we get our Olympians to play their part, there are some concerns and niggling issues that must be addressed – and they could very well be on the menu over lunch tomorrow.

For starters, the Olympians have been fighting for a pension scheme. This has been proposed and tabled repeatedly in the past, but to no avail.

While some of these celebrated athletes have found a second lease on life upon retiring from sports, others continue to struggle. A pension scheme would also encourage more people to pick up sports as a career, as it will be seen as a safety net for the athletes.

The Olympians also feel it’s time that they are included in government-led initiatives, including the annual Merdeka (Independence Day) parade.

Several MOA members took part in last year’s parade – despite some initial confusion and last-minute confirmations. With seven months still to go, their entry this year can surely be better planned and executed, with MOA walking behind its own flag.

The Olympians can also help inspire our young, by officiating sports meets, instead of giving the ‘honour’ to politicians, as is the norm. Olympians can also be a part of grassroots programmes, to help guide and nurture our next generation of athletes.

The ‘playbook’ is all too familiar every time a new minister occupies the top office in Menara KBS. The early days – the honeymoon period – is often coated with saccharine-sweet moments of smiles, grins, enthusiastic handshakes and back-slapping, and a Niagara Falls of pledges from people high on optimism, eager to make a good impression.

Sadly, the stakeholders, more often than not, will soon be left disappointed, after seeing the same song and dance routine being rehashed, yet again.

Let’s also not forget our Olympians and former athletes, who invest their valuable time and energy, by volunteering to be a part of committees formed by the government.

Case in point, former hockey star Maninderjit Singh, who was part of the Podium Programme Enhancement Committee, formed in 2020. Despite his commitment to the national effort, the ex-national, who played at the 1996 Atlanta, and the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and his fellow committee members, remain in the dark about what had happened to the recommendations they made.

Tomorrow’s luncheon could either turn out to be another pointless meet-and-greet session, another empty photo-op that accomplishes nothing more than to satiate the hunger of the minister’s press office and the local media.

Or, it could be capitalised and be turned into a fulfilling and satisfying smorgasbord of ideas, cohesive direction, and an unwavering commitment to honour Malaysia’s prized assets – the 300-odd Olympians – towards building a unified, healthier, and productive nation.

Here’s to a promising New Year.