Former athletes can still contribute to the national sports scene, especially at the grassroots, if given the chance.
The initiatives to get this group of ex-stars going is no rocket science, says legendary footballer Datuk Santokh Singh.
“I live in Setapak which has many schools. I wish there was an initiative to get me and several other former athletes, national or state level, who are from Setapak, to visit these schools and motivate the students,” said the legendary footballer.
“At least the students will value the stars of the yesteryear, be inspired and hopefully this will encourage more people to pick up sports.”
“It’s not all that difficult. We can start with the handful of us from a particular area, take turns to visit the schools and make it a regular thing.”
Santokh voiced his frustration over sports teams that do not seem to reflect a Malaysian identity these days.
“It’s always dominated by one race or another. We should have the best Malaysians, regardless of skin colour. We must see more Malaysian teams and to get there, we need to encourage more children to pick up sports.
“Not all will become the next (late Datuk) Mokhtar Dahari or even Santokh Singh, but at least they will be interested in something healthy,” added the 66-year-old who played for Selangor and Malaysia in the 70s and 80s.
Santokh, who is part of Premier League outfit Petaling Jaya City FC, said clubs too could reach out for the services of these former athletes, some of whom are still working to make ends meet.
He said multiple SEA Games gold medal winner, former national walker V. Subramaniam, was a good example.
Subramaniam, who qualified for the 1980 Olympics (boycotted by Malaysia to protest Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan), coaches on his own and runs a Western food stall in Ampang.
“Many athletes have given their whole life to sports. They aren’t asking for the sky or moon but the opportunity to give back and perhaps earn some pocket money, if that’s possible.
“The way I see it, it’s just pure recognition. Why not tap the expertise of someone who has seen it all?”
Santokh acknowledged the world has evolved and so has sports, but stressed the role of ex-athletes at the grassroots was simply to spur more people to get active.
“My father wasn’t too happy with me being a footballer but I still played the game and later wore the national jersey with pride. My family realised the importance (of playing football) and I have no regrets being part of sports.
“I hope more Malaysians will also see the importance of playing sports,” he added.