Stop running to PMs to fix sporting mess

There seems to be a common trait among those involved in sports in Malaysia – when the going gets tough, just run to the prime minister.

Unfortunately, prime ministers often get sucked in, in ‘playing hero’, or
‘bailing out’ these sports officials.

Early last year, Malaysian shuttler Lee Zii Jia quit the national stable to go independent. It was a simple, straightforward problem that could have been easily resolved. It wasn’t a unique situation either, as precedents had been set in the past.

The drama culminated in a full-scale meltdown, which saw the then prime minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, being distracted from more pressing national issues, to jump in and play cupid, which resulted in a rosy, happy ending for both Lee and the BA of Malaysia.

Also, last April, the Sepaktakraw Association of Malaysia (PSM) had pleaded for Ismail Sabri to intervene and acknowledge it as the national body, instead of the Malaysian Sepaktakraw Confederation, following the conflict between PSM and the Asia Sepaktakraw Federation.

It is understood that the matter was also raised during a Cabinet meeting – where more pressing matters could have been discussed instead.

Recently, it was learnt that certain football officials had sought the buy-in of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to secure the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil if Malaysia made it to the final of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup tournament.

The first leg of the final was on Jan 13, while the second leg was held three days later, on Jan 16.

The venue had also been booked – way in advance – for Jay Chou’s Jan 15 concert. In fact, this was also relayed to the FA of Malaysia (FAM), in writing, that the stadium was fully occupied.

Perhaps feeling slighted and challenged, certain quarters found it fit to get Anwar’s blessings, to hopefully “bring the stage down” in time for the final.

In the end, the Harimau Malaya team was defeated by Thailand in the two-legged semifinals (3-1 aggregate). Jay Chou went on to entertain his 45,000 fans in peace.

In hindsight, the officials can’t be blamed for running to the prime minister. They were just exercising all their options, hoping that the popularity of their sport would resonate with the nation’s leader.

But should a prime minister even entertain such requests?

Sports, after all, have often been used as a tool to garner support and votes, evident in the actions and promises made by politicians over the decades.

As such, fixing a simple, straightforward problem is seen as a low-hanging fruit – easily accomplished, and with relatively minimal effort that can quickly win the hearts and minds of many. Add that to the list of “achievements”, and you can bask in social media glory, ad infinitum. That’s the barometer for success these days.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad faced a similar predicament in the late 90s.

Then not-yet-a ‘Datuk’ Rashid Sidek and Roslin Hashim left BAM to play for a club – Nusa Mahsuri. The issue reached a boiling point in 1998. Dr Mahathir was quoted then as saying: “(Our) players and officials seem to view lightly the question of national interest, and instead, give priority to their own needs”.

He refused to interfere, and comment further on the episode.

It is widely said that Dr Mahathir, once an avid horse rider and still, a motoring enthusiast, was never a big fan of sports. By refusing to interfere, he had pretty much kicked the ball back in the court of the said sports association and its officials.

Perhaps it was his way of saying that he had bigger problems to deal with, than a player or two leaving the national stable.

This is especially so in today’s context. Ismail Sabri had bigger issues to deal with – like the Covid-19 pandemic, a weak economy, and a runaway inflation – matters of life and death.

It’s the same with Anwar, who is grappling with managing the economy, the rising cost of living, and inflationary pressures.

These sports officials should learn to clean up their own mess. They need to learn to plan ahead, to know that “No” means “No”, and that they don’t have the right to dictate what should or should not be done based on the popularity of their sport.

After all, isn’t this what professionalism is all about?

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