Time for OCM to take charge of Malaysian sports after dismal Olympics outing

The build-up to the Tokyo Olympics had been unprecedented. The Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted the preparation of elite athletes around the world.

The results were obvious at the just-concluded Summer Games, especially for the Malaysian contingent.

There were pockets of successes though, through Datuk Azizulhasni Awang’s silver medal effort in the men’s keirin, and the bronze medal by Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik in the badminton men’s doubles event.

Diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri, swimmer Phee Jinq En, golfer Kelly Tan, sailor Nur Shazrin Latif, archer Syaqiera Mashayikh and even sprinter Azreen Nabila Alias recorded progress in their respective events.

However, it was generally a poor outing for the Malaysian team – more so after winning won four silver, and one bronze medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

For starters, the Malaysian contingent fell short of the Youth and Sports Ministry’s already modest target of three medals, including a gold.

Secondly, the series of poor results in multi-sporting events since 2018 showed that the elite programmes have failed to meet their objectives.

Even National Sports Council (NSC) director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail admitted the divers had “gagal (failed) in their campaign.

With the exception of the FA of Malaysia and BA of Malaysia, most of the national sports associations in the country are unable to stand on their own. They rely on money from the Youth and Sports Ministry – via its funding arm, the NSC.

As such, the NSC have over the years, been at the forefront of various programmes involving elite athletes, including the ‘Podium Programme’.

Following the nation’s disappointing outings throughout 2018 and 2019, the Podium Programme was dissected by a task force comprising former athletes, officials and experts.

Their findings and suggestions were then submitted to the ministry on Sept 17, 2020. Yet, they have been kept under wraps but for some of the revelations by this news website on March 24 and March 25, 2021.

Programmes by the ministry also seem to shift or be replaced each time a new minister takes charge. In short, there is no continuity, despite the numerous assertions by the ministry calling for long-term vision.

It is widely agreed that Malaysian sports needs to be free from political interference.

As such, should the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) play a more aggressive role in charting the fortunes of the national contingent, instead of being labelled as just a “glorified tour agent”?

OCM had always been viewed as the umbrella body for the national sports associations, and is often visible only during the preparation (i.e. accommodation, logistics and accreditation passes) of the national contingent, ahead of major multi-sports events.

Let’s not forget that one of OCM’s objectives, as per its constitution, includes promoting and encouraging the development of high-performance sports, as well as sports for all.

Imagine if government funding goes directly to OCM and it is then tasked to oversee the elite programmes in a bid to promote the development of high-performance sports. The NSC will then be able to oversee sports in the states, through the states’ sports councils.

The ministry, or specifically the NSC, will no longer be held solely responsible for the outcomes at major tournaments, as the responsibility will now also fall on OCM and the national bodies.

This would be seen as a means to empower the national bodies with the hope that they would finally stand on their own.

The OCM, after all, is represented by the national sports associations, and they would better understand the predicament of the national bodies. In an ideal world, it sounds like a viable option.

But the office bearers in OCM rely on national sports associations for votes, and the funding could be abused as a means to garner those votes.

It also remains to be seen if OCM’s office bearers have the courage to reprimand non-performing member associations as “every vote counts” during the election.

Perhaps the best way to counter this, is for a body, represented by officials from the Youth and Sports Ministry and the Finance Ministry, to oversee how the money distributed to OCM is being used, and to ensure the objectives of the programmes are met. At the end of the day, it’s the taxpayers’ money and there must be accountability.

OCM also has the capability of raising its own funds.

The past system, which was heavily reliant on the NSC, brought Malaysian sports to a certain level, as evidenced in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

To raise the bar even higher, a new approach must be quickly adopted – one that would ensure sports associations play a bigger role, and assume responsibility, on the road to professionalism.

BAM seems to have a succession plan; the likes of men’s singles player Lee Zii Jia and the Chia-Soh duo are the nation’s best bet at podium finishes at the next Olympics.

By contrast, Malaysia Swimming still relies on the seniors, while China obtained a one-two finish in the women’s 10m platform event through its teenage sensations Chen Yuxi (aged 15) and Quan Hongchan (14). Quan bagged the gold medal while Chen won the silver.

Thus, it is important for national sports bodies to start introducing aggressive and robust plans to create more talents, and raise their own portfolio to be financially stronger.

Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, in summing up Malaysia’s “not too bad” performance in Tokyo last night, revealed that OCM’s role would be expanded in gearing athletes for the Olympics. He, however, did not go into details.

Reezal Merican promised changes will happen upon the team’s return from Tokyo, including the introduction of a special Olympics programme – as suggested by the Podium Programme Task Force.

Granted, the Covid-19 pandemic had wrecked the world’s sporting calendar, and rescheduling the Olympics to a year later had affected the coaches’ plans for their athletes to peak at the right time. But it wasn’t a problem exclusive to Malaysia.

It would, nevertheless, be interesting if local universities or the National Sports Institute conducted a study to see how the various movement control orders implemented in Malaysia since March last year, had impacted the athletes’ training ahead of Tokyo. The data could be measured against the lockdowns that were enforced in other Olympic-performing nations.

The athletes went to Tokyo and gave their best. We know some of them are capable of doing better as they are at par with the world’s greatest.

Our elite athletes don’t need our pity. They don’t need support in the form of mere words. They need help in the form of action – to help them win medals.

Since the ministry’s route, via the NSC, may no longer be workable, it’s time to explore new options en route to winning the elusive Olympic gold medal.

After all, Reezal Merican did say: “We keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. We need to find new processes and systems to get a success generating outcome.”