Time for Malaysia to create ‘handbook’ in organising major sports events

2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games Report book

Malaysia is supposed to host the 2027 SEA Games. That’s barely three years away. Yet, till today it remains unclear if the federal government has sat down to discuss the details of the regional Games.

Sarawak, eager to be a sports hub in the region, has expressed its interest in hosting the SEA Games. Given that Malaysia now has a deputy prime minister from Sarawak, and with the government eager to garner support from the state, it could very well be in the running to host the regional affair.

What is equally important is to see the type of administrative and operational system that will be adopted in organising the Games. While the nation has hosted several SEA Games editions (1965, 1971, 1977, 1989, 2001, and 2017), and the 1998 Commonwealth Games, it still struggles to find the right operational formula to ensure the country, and its people, truly benefit from the sporting extravaganza.

So, should the administrative and operational framework be driven by a company – just like how Sukom Ninety Eight Bhd was formed specifically for the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur? Or should it be like the 2017 SEA Games, which was spearheaded by the SEA Games Organising Committee (MASOC), led by a civil servant?

Having a group of passionate volunteers running the show may have been a common practice in the past, but not so in today’s world. More sports bodies worldwide are shying away from the volunteer concept and starting to inject salaried staff into their set-up to adopt a more corporate feel in their bid to develop their respective sports.

The sad reality is that there has not been any effort put into studying the various administrative and operational styles in the hosting of multi-sports events in Malaysia. Most of the time, the hosting is rather ad hoc with players being overly territorial with their agendas – looking at it strictly through the sporting lens, or injecting narratives to suit the political narratives of the government of the day.

The 2017 SEA Games accounts have yet to be made public, and there’s no proper documentation done as to the operational aspects of hosting the event. A 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games Report (main image) surfaced some 18 months after the regional event ended, but it was generally a compilation of the results accompanied by several errors.

Does this mean that all is lost? Perhaps not.

Forgoing the past mistakes, it’s best if the stakeholders started looking at operational modules and practices that would best fit the local flavour, en route to creating a master ‘handbook’ that is easily updated each time Malaysia is given the opportunity to host a major sporting event.

Tough questions need to be asked – should a company be tasked to run the operations of a major Games where the main capital will be from the government – taxpayers’ money? Having a private entity will theoretically ensure that things run quickly and smoothly, cutting out the red tape and bureaucracy that comes with everything government.

Nevertheless, Sukom 98 Bhd has its fair share of criticisms. In 2004, then Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said announced Sukom 98 Bhd had finally closed its accounts, posting a loss of RM11.6 million. However, in 2010 Sukom 98 executive chairman Datuk Nik Mahmud Nik Yusuf revealed the company still couldn’t close the accounts as they had pending court cases and required more time to settle its debts.

Should the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM), being the umbrella body of the national sports associations in the country, be given the task to spearhead this, thereby shedding its reputation as a ‘glorified tour agent’?

Or should a private entity, hired by the government via an open tender process, tasked with overseeing the operations but with key stakeholders from various ministries in its set-up? This will ensure there is a ‘360-degree view’ when hosting the Games – from the financial implications, to championing sports tourism.

The spillover effect must be seen, and enjoyed, by the locals. And once the Games is over, the lasting residual effects of the Games must continue – either in the form of allowing communities to use the new or refurbished venues, or to get Malaysians to dabble into the ever-growing sports industry.

It’s best for those working on the guide to speak to those who were heavily involved in organising such events in the past. It’s not just about documenting the successes, but also learning from the failures, and ensuring that future organisers do not make the same mistakes. It’s then only right to compare with the best practices adopted by neighbouring and developed nations to see how they best fit our system.

This must begin now. If certain rules or requirements within the government system are outdated, they need to be addressed and rectified. Transparency is key, and organisers must be clear in listing out the operational strategies and key objectives, and establish key performance indexes to ensure that goals are met.

These efforts must be inclusive and require the buy-ins from not only all the ministries and government agencies, but also the local communities. They need to know why their hard-earned money is being channelled for a Games which often sees lavish spending on the opening and closing ceremonies, with hosting nations often coming out tops by hosting sports that favour them.

The feel-good factor can only last so long. What will leave a lasting impression is the economic factor – that there are ample economic opportunities generated by hosting these events.

And the first step towards providing these opportunities is by getting the operational mechanism for hosting such Games, right.

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