Sports industry, creating opportunities for youths top on Reezal Merican’s mind

It was six in the evening but Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican’s day was far from over.

The new Youth and Sports Minister had a series of meetings with officials and stakeholders yesterday despite the nation being in the thick of the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Relaxed and ever-smiling, the Kepala Batas MP admitted he was initially surprised to be given the portfolio.

However, he has history with youth movements and that, perhaps, is Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s reasoning of handing him the portfolio to garner the support of young Malaysians.

A seasoned politician, Reezal served as Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister (2015-2018). But he remains grounded as he is eager to listen and strengthen what has already been implemented by his predecessors.

And the MCO has given him a breather of sorts.

“The MCO has allowed all of us to reset our lives, to find new ways of working and getting things done,” said Reezal who turns 48 on July 29.

However, he doesn’t plan to reset things within Wisma KBS. Reezal, who clocks in his first month in office on Friday, instead believes in strengthening existing programmes and working with other ministries.

And if there is one subject that has got him going, it is sports industry.

“The sports industry is huge and it’s something we should look at. Also, it is a wealth creator as more youths, athletes and associations will be able to leverage on a thriving industry.”

The concept of creating a sports industry was something Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek initiated during his time as Youth and Sports Minister. But it was somewhat forgotten the minute he left office.

“I don’t plan to come up with new policies. Let’s look at youths, for example. There have already been three policies in the past (1985, 1997 and 2015) and the latest policy is set for the next 20-25 years. I admit it needs to be tweaked, based on the advancement of technology and creating new job opportunities. Even the World Economic Forum speaks about closing the skills gap and these are things we need to look at.

“It’s the same with sports. There are existing programmes and policies but what we need to do is to fine-tune them based on current and future demands.”

Reezal readily admitted he would like to reach out to like-minded members of the Cabinet to get things going.

Among the two who could play a role are Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Aziz, a cycling enthusiast, and Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who is also an active sports person. Perhaps, he could also reach out to Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan who once served as Khairy’s deputy during their time in Wisma KBS.

While life may not go back to normal anytime soon with more events being axed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Reezal could take this opportunity to learn more about the politics in the youth and sports scenes.

The ministry comes with baggage – from internal bickering by jaded officials to unanswered questions ranging from the money spent on a suing spree by the National Sports Council in 2011, the appointment of political appointees serving key positions to why the 2017 SEA Games accounts have yet to be made public. He will also need to entertain egos.

Youth groups which have been entrenched in the system for decades were pretty much ignored over the past two years and this is where he could win their hearts back. But instead of splurging on them, the Umno Supreme Council member could come up with ways to create opportunities so that they can stand on their own without relying on taxpayers’ money.

Being the only minister from Penang in the Cabinet, Reezal will surely be tasked to look at Covid-19 matters there to ensure there is federal government’s presence in the DAP-led state.

Reezal knows it will not be a walk in the park but he is willing to run, cycle and swim to ensure Malaysian youths, athletes, industry players and the masses benefit from initiatives by his ministry.

Only time will tell if Reezal will survive this Putrajaya ‘ironman’ challenge of sorts.