Sports associations a sorry lot with little empathy for our heroes

When Zambrose Abdul Rahman passed away, a picture of him and a Wikipedia link serving as a reference to his achievements made the rounds in WhatsApp groups.

And that’s about all was done to honour Malaysia’s former 400m hurdles champion who competed in the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

Zambrose, 76, succumbed to throat cancer in Seremban on June 6.

Where is the Malaysia Athletics Federation (MAF) which many are eager to be part of but seem to disregard the very people – our athletes – who give them the reason to be part of sports?

MAF does not seem to have a website.

It’s 2020 yet MAF does not have a website, as seen on the World Athletics website.

Its one-time website (maf.org.my) is now a travel blog. Its Facebook account was last updated in 2014.

The federation boasts a president, a deputy president and four vice-presidents but there has been hardly a squeak from them. The two exceptions are “praying that the Covid-19 test for (national hammer thrower) Jackie Wong would turn out negative” last month and a suggestion in March to hold more local meets after the sports calendar was disrupted due to the pandemic.

Just like many other sports associations in Malaysia, MAF does not seem to have any records of its athletes. If it did, MAF would have made the announcement about Zambrose’s death accompanied by his detailed biodata.

The federation would have also sent out a decent picture of Zambrose.

Zambrose (595) during the elimination heat of the 400m hurdles in the Mexico Olympics in this picture dated Oct 13, 1968 sold by Historic Images Outlet.

How has MAF made itself relevant? How has it promoted athletics in Malaysia apart from organising national championships and claiming credit for the successes of athletes they did not unearth or train?

Is MAF all about wearing a coat and pretending to be important? In reality, its office-bearers are as forgotten and irrelevant as those who choose to only harp about the past but offer nothing to improve the ecosystem.

What has MAF done to make pole vault or hammer throw a choice for youngsters? Athletics isn’t only about running in one straight line.

It would, however, be unfair to single out MAF as this has been a trend for the longest time in most national sports associations. What pride do these individuals have parading as presidents, deputy presidents or ranking officials of a national body when they are so disconnected with their own community.

If sports associations think their only role is elite sports, they are very wrong. National sports bodies are guardians of the sport and they need to look at both the masses and elite.

More importantly, sports associations need to know and understand their past. They need to appreciate every athlete who donned national colours and pay them a fitting tribute as without athletes, there would be no sports officials or even sports journalists.

Some sports associations are finally embarking on gathering information of former athletes. Better late than never. But it wouldn’t have been a hassle had people adopted the desire to systematically document milestones since Day One.

And tribute should not be given only when a person dies. It would be more meaningful if we valued them while they are still with us. Learn from them, make them feel valuable. Connect them with our younger generation so that the exploits of the past will be better understood and appreciated. Many would like to know what they are doing now and how life after sports has been.

Is that so difficult?

Many sports personalities have passed on since January. They include Muhammad Ata Maarof (powerlifting para-athlete), S. Balasingam (hockey), JV Jayan (decathlete), Teoh Seng Hoe (football), Jaswant Singh (FIFA referee), V. Nellan (golf), Tan Aik Mong (badminton) and Angeline Reutens (hockey).

The lack of empathy is apparent. So much that they dismiss these special athletes who brought honour to the nation and united Malaysians through their successes.

Till then, let’s all be contented with generic tributes about a dead ex-athlete with scarce facts and figures sourced online. Crude as it may sound, that’s pretty much the reality for our sports heroes.