Youth and Sports Ministry still stuck on past glory, unable to move forward

Congratulatory billboards of Malaysian athletes winning gold medals at the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games line up at the walkway along Jalan Kinabalu.

It seems to imply that those who put up the posters remain happy to be stuck in that particular feel-good era. If the idea is to honour the winners, then the same treatment should be given to the winners of the other editions of the regional Games.

Some had hoped that Malaysia’s haul of 145 gold medals – the nation’s best ever achievement – in the 2017 Games would be a precursor to the Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s win in the 2018 general election.

Alas, BN created history by being booted out of Putrajaya for the very first time. Malaysia’s gold medal haul in the regional Games in 2019, fell to a mere 55, far short of the target of 70. A sign of the times.

For the record, 844 athletes competed in 38 sports in the Kuala Lumpur Games, while 733 athletes competed in 52 sports in the following edition, held in the Philippines.

With the exception of a handful of wins, Malaysian sports, in general, hasn’t progressed much, since.

The Covid-19 pandemic seemed to provide the perfect excuse for the lack of direction within the Youth and Sports Ministry and the Malaysian sporting scene.

The political instability also contributed to the lack of willpower in making the right, and sometimes unpopular, decisions.

Today, the Malaysian sporting scene is a mess of unfinished business. The ministry has been sitting on the National Sports Vision 2030 (VSN2030) for far too long. The canvassing process, initiated after those tasked to produce VSN2030 failed miserably, was instead carried out as the vision was scheduled to be made public last year.

With only eight years to go before 2030, the initiative now seems to be a waste of resources, and time. The fear is that VSN2030 will become another document that will quickly be forgotten, especially once a new minister occupies the top job in Wisma KBS.

The Podium Programme Enhancement Committee is another example. The committee spent long hours interviewing various stakeholders to identify issues within the programme and to provide suggestions. Within two months, the committee submitted its findings to the ministry. This was in September 2020.

It’s 2022. Yet, the ministry continues to remain silent over the findings.

The ministry doesn’t have to organise a party or an ‘opening ceremony’ to reveal the findings. The ministry clearly does not have the resources, and to be seen to splurge on such events, especially after slashing allocations for the national athletes, might not be cricket, and tough to justify.

For decades, the national sports associations have been overly dependent on the funding arm of the ministry – the National Sports Council (NSC).

Today, the government is facing budget constraints due to the billions spent on battling Covid-19 over the past two years, ensuring businesses stayed afloat, allocating additional financial aid and resources to those hit by the recent floods, and setting aside money for a possible general election.

The lockdowns due to the pandemic also hurt the lottery business. Berjaya Sports Toto, having contributed to NSC for decades, gave out RM28 million to NSC last year, compared to RM50.3 million in 2019.

The lack of vision by the ministry, exacerbated by poor communications, saw several Olympians voicing out their displeasure.

Former hockey international Logan Raj, on Thursday, tweeted:

“I honestly believe they should split the Youth & Sports portfolio into discrete, standalone ministries. Having Peja (Ahmad Faizal) lead Malaysian sports is a friggin’ joke. Peja would rather hold an event to announce that they will “do something”, instead of actually doing something #Malaysia.”

Another former hockey star, Maninderjit Singh, who also once served as Malaysian Hockey Federation general manager, and was part of the Podium Programme Enhancement Committee, shared his views about the dismal state of Malaysian sports in a series of tweets recently.

His tweet on Jan 3 hit the nail on the head

Former NSC director-general and National Sports Institute chief executive officer, Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz, who led the Podium Programme Enhancement Committee, on Jan 1, shared: “The value of our nation’s sports goes way beyond merely winning a medal. The power of sport in its various ways, has yet to be harnessed, truly and completely.”

The ministry and the government are still unaware of the true potential of sports.

Never before has there been so much uncertainty, especially when facing three major sporting events – the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, and the SEA Games, scheduled this year.

Just like the congratulatory billboards, it is as though the partying following Malaysia’s “success” at KL2017, never stopped for the folks at Wisma KBS.

Hopefully, Datuk M. Jana Santhiran, who reported for duty as the ministry’s secretary-general on Wednesday, pulls the hallucinatory plug, and rips open the blinds to let the light in.

Let him not be another “saya yang menurut perintah” parrot who slaps on his dancing shoes and dives headlong into this myopic, self-absorbed, feel-good, disillusioned bubble party, while Malaysian sports continues to flounder in disarray.