‘Taksub’, obsession with cult personalities must end if Malaysian badminton hopes to improve

The Aug 12 state polls in Malaysia are hotting up, with political talk dominating most spheres – at eateries, on social media, and in WhatsApp groups.

Sceptics argue that harping on things – good and bad – is pointless, as no significant changes have been seen, nine months after the 15th General Election. In fact, nothing much has changed for the better, regardless of who is in power.

But the taksub (fanatical) mentality remains ingrained in Malaysian society. Allegiances must be picked, and battle lines drawn, they insist. Objectivity and level-headedness have no place in this high-stakes, winner-takes-all joust.

The same is somewhat true in sports.

Datuk Misbun Sidek is a household name in Malaysia. On July 28, the decorated former national player and coach was fired from his position as national junior singles coaching director for the BA of Malaysia (BAM).

This came following the performances of the Malaysian players at the Asian Junior Championships in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. None of them reached the semi-finals in any of the events. At the World Junior Championships in Spain last year, none of the BAM players reached the quarter-finals.

On July 31, the 63-year-old recorded his unhappiness over his termination, saying he was “neither consulted, nor had agreed to it”.

Misbun felt slighted that BAM president, Tan Sri Norza Zakaria, didn’t break the news to him personally. Instead, a special committee chaired by BAM deputy president, Datuk V. Subramaniam, announced that his services were no longer required.

Misbun made it clear that it was Norza who had convinced him to rejoin the national body – the former’s second stint – in 2017.

Misbun’s outburst received sympathy and support.

But the episode also raised questions – are Misbun’s training tactics truly outdated? What did the other coaches and junior shuttlers tell the committee, which resulted in the decision to terminate Misbun’s services immediately?

Many had expected Norza to come out with guns blazing to counter Misbun’s claims, when the businessman decided to meet the press on Aug 2.

Instead, he called the episode a “miscommunication”, apologised to Misbun, and overruled his committee’s decision.

According to Norza, Misbun can remain in his post until his contract ends year-end, or discuss the matter amicably with BAM, if the ex-shuttler chooses not to stay.

Norza then dropped a bombshell – that he would leave BAM in December, instead of after the Paris Olympics next year, as announced several weeks ago.

Without a doubt, BAM could have handled Misbun’s termination better. Norza should have announced it.

Some insisted that Norza shouldn’t have held the Aug 2 press conference for fear that that could drag the rally longer. Others said Norza shouldn’t have revealed his plans to leave later this year. Several council members were in the dark.

But there’s no point crying over spilt milk.

The fact is that Norza wants to move on – from this issue, and from BAM.

It is only right to document Norza’s achievements since helming BAM in 2017. He was responsible for sealing sponsorship deals, including the multi-million ringgit deal with Petronas. He has turned BAM into a professional set-up, much to the envy of the other sports associations in Malaysia. During Norza’s time in office, men’s pair Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik won Malaysia’s first-ever World Championship title in 2022.

Given that it’s a thankless job, perhaps Norza doesn’t see any reason to hold on. And since he claims to have identified someone to helm the ship, leaving in December could be good for BAM, as it starts 2024 with a new face at the top.

Misbun too, has had his share of accolades, from his days as a player, to coaching some of the finest shuttlers in Malaysia, including Datuk Lee Chong Wei.

But this ‘obsession’ over individuals, just like in politics, must stop. Questions must be raised, and decisions made must be for the betterment of the sport.

This applies to all – coaches, players, and especially the council members of sports associations, who seem to get away when the results are less than satisfactory.

Conversations about the winners, losers, and who will be fired next in badminton, rule in Malaysia. But what about meaningful discussions about building a healthy, sustainable ecosystem? They are few, and far between.

Has the structure, from the grassroots to the top, truly changed over the past decade?

Even Datuk Seri Jalani Sidek, during the press conference with his brother Misbun, said BAM had to accept that Malaysian badminton is lagging, behind other top nations. The results and rankings speak for themselves.

It is understood that there are efforts to get clubs into the mainstream by evaluating them and hosting a national age-group competition. The clubs have received drafts of the plan for review, and separate sessions will be held.

These clubs are motivated by the ranking scheme and by the opportunity to work closely with BAM. It will give them bragging rights, and will serve as a good marketing tool.

If this partnership goes through, there will be a national tournament for young club shuttlers.

BAM will send its coaches to identify talent from the best of the state BAs, and the clubs will have a slot at Akademi Badminton Malaysia.

Hopefully, this plan will materalise despite the possible resistance by certain officials from the state associations who may feel threatened by the active participation of clubs. It’s high time for the stakeholders of badminton, especially in the states and districts, to make decisions objectively. As Norza had repeatedly said over the years: “No individual is bigger than the institution”.

Badminton is beyond what happens at Bukit Kiara. It’s about raising the standards at every school, district, and state, before the best of the best gather in Kuala Lumpur.

The main goal is to create ‘factories’ nationwide, churning out stars of tomorrow, instead of just relying on Akademi Badminton Malaysia.

As in politics, change has to start at the grassroots, with words backed by actions.

While we appreciate, and are thankful to those who have made a difference, we need to stop being taksub with individuals, being consumed with cult personalities, and start being obsessed with the collective effort to push Malaysian badminton to a whole new level.

Tagged with: