Sports bubble for elite athletes not prison, says NSC chief

The National Sports Council (NSC) has dismissed talk that its sports bubble approach is like a “prison”.

Its director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail added that coaches and athletes are free to stay within the council’s compound or train on their own.

“The sports bubble approach was discussed with the coaches and they were given options. The officials and athletes are well aware of this,” Shapawi said.

“It’s either they stay put at our training centres or they train on their own.”

He added those housed at NSC’s hubs are free to roam within the premises.

“In fact, we are trying our level best to make their stay comfortable by getting food trucks in, organising outdoor movie screenings and providing video games. We want to break the monotony.”

Elite athletes, including those involved in the Road To Tokyo (RTT) programme ahead of the Olympics, have been based at various training grounds since the government relaxed the Movement Control Order (MCO) last year.

However, the second round of MCO kicked in on Jan 13 due to the spike in Covid-19 cases. It remains unclear if the MCO will be extended beyond March 4.

Most of the athletes are based at Bukit Jalil and the National Badminton Academy in Bukit Kiara.

On Feb 22, Foul! had invited readers to discuss a message received by its author, Haresh Deol, that read: “It’s not a sports bubble. It’s a prison.”

The message posted on the blog suggested that Malaysia’s Olympic athletes are getting severely stressed because they cannot disassociate from their training environment, adding “general public sport has begun, yet NSC is forcing the national athletes, who share the same venue as the public, to remain in their prison.”

Haresh is also the co-founder and editor of Twentytwo13.

Shapawi, in responding to the message, added: “It’s wrong to say the sports bubble is a prison. If anyone wants to break camp, they are free to do so. But when they return, they have to follow through the processes which include getting a swab test and being quarantined for three days.”

He said the cost of swab tests is borne by NSC and admitted it will escalate if athletes and coaches decide to break camp too often.

“Our intention is to protect those within the bubble. And those within the bubble include the athletes, coaches, chefs, support team, cleaners and drivers.”

Shapawi also reminded those who remain disgruntled with the sports bubble concept to remember that Kuala Lumpur and Selangor are still under MCO.

“One is only supposed to leave home when necessary. Instead of being confined within the four walls of your home, those housed in NSC are able to train and eat with their fellow athletes.

“I know it’s been tough on everyone. I feel for our athletes and those involved in the support system, having to stay within the training hubs.

“But our intention is to protect every single person within the sports bubble and to keep it safe. Once again, I would like to stress that the athletes and coaches have choices. They can follow our processes or be on their own and take full responsibility.”