Past elite sports programme ‘masked by self-serving narratives, lacked objective scrutiny’

All eyes are on Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Ministry as several key decisions regarding the Paris Gold programme are expected to be made ahead of its launch soon.

Stakeholders, tired of the constant changes in directives each time there is a changing of the guard in Menara KBS, hope for clarity and continuity this time around, as decision makers fine-tune an elite sports programme 16 months before the Paris Olympics next year.

The programme, as the name suggests, aims to rewrite the history books at the Summer Games. Malaysia has yet to win the gold medal since participating in the 1956 edition of the Olympics (as Malaya).

It is understood that several individuals from the Podium Programme Enhancement Committee met with Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh recently to present their findings.

Earlier, the committee had submitted its report to the then minister, Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, on Sept 17, 2020. The contents were not made public.

Twentytwo13, however, had on March 24, 2021, revealed that the committee had found that Podium Programme “had a built-in deficit from the start”.

Among the interesting points raised by the committee that should be considered in the planning of the Paris Gold programme are that:

  • Malaysia needs a longitudinal and sustainable High-Performance Sport Performance Management system that prioritises athletes’ performance, infused with the necessary systems, processes, culture, and values, with the right people managing it.
  • Previous successes with vertical sports development, such as Jaya ‘98 and KL2001, and exploiting the advantages and momentum brought by hosting those Games (as can be seen with Asia-Comm 2006), turned out to be unsustainable models that were weighed down by poor mentality, questionable systematic and personal integrity, and ladder-climbing administrators. Masked by self-serving narratives and lacking objective scrutiny, ‘we were collectively lulled into complacency and even delusion, believing that the prevailing model was perfect and deserved continuation, without the benefit of honest appraisal and a 360-degree view’.
  • The previous systems were fundamentally undermined by an inadequate grasp of an ever-shifting sporting landscape in the whole sports ecosystem that affects high-performance sports. Rightfully, the successes gleaned from high-performance sports need to be harnessed to benefit society at large, by way of direct or indirect benefits.

The report added that the previous programme was tethered to an outcome-based predictive and presumptive management approach that sought to make medal projections without thoroughly evidential and data-based monitoring of athlete performance and updates prospects.

“Going forward, it would be an exercise in futility. Yet, we seem to be repeating this ad infinitum as we erroneously configure athlete performance programmes as administrative and financial management exercises,” the report added.

Numerous reports and findings by experts for high-performance programmes in Malaysia have been shelved for reasons best known to the decision makers.

There’s the University of Stirling report, led by Professor Leigh Robinson in 2011 – which is said to be an academic approach to what needs to be done. It is understood that there were two Stirling reports – one being the original “warts-and-all” report, and the other, the “watered down” version.

In 2015, another study was done by Brian Miller – which zoomed in on the realities on the ground.

It remains unclear how much was spent on the Stirling and Miller reports, and if the current decision makers have read those reports.

Both the reports, combined with the findings of the Podium Programme Enhancement Committee, would be more than enough to provide the spine for the Paris Gold programme.

What also remains uncertain is the money that will be allocated for the new elite sports programme.

In the tabling of Budget 2023 on Feb 24, RM324 million was set aside to develop the sports ecosystem, talent search, high-performance elites and para-athletes, and to maintain and upgrade sports facilities throughout the country.

No breakdown was given as lawmakers continue to debate the national budget in the Dewan Rakyat.

Stakeholders also wonder if the programme will continue after the Paris Olympics or be scrapped once a new minister is named, as had happened in the past.