Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Khairy cracks the whip

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has decided to replace National Sports Council (NSC) director-general Datuk Seri Zolkples Embong over Malaysia's below par performance at this year's Commonwealth and Asian Games. He is expected to make the announcement soon.

Zolkples' impending departure was the top story on the back pages of newspapers last week and it will be an unprecedented move with the media even speculating that a foreigner might be appointed to head the NSC for the first time ever.

Unlike his predecessors, Khairy has warned that he wants greater accountability for the government's huge investment in sports.

"There must be a return on that enormous investment. It would be pointless if the government continues to channel allocations to sports associations without achieving tangible results. I have to ensure that public money is used in a transparent and justifiable manner," he said after being appointed to the cabinet last year.

For this year, some RM386 million has been allocated under the "sports excellence" programme that includes upgrading of sport facilities and identifying sports talent. In addition, there is RM150 million from the Sports Trust Fund that goes into developing the elite sports, sports science, research and development.

From 2008 to 2012, 46 sports including football and sepak takraw, received funding worth RM222 million. Sports associations never had it so good but the results have largely been falling compared even with the 1960's and 1970's when sports hardly received government funding. Many records set by athletes then are still standing.

And in the 2015 Budget, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak talked of concerted efforts to transform Malaysia into a sporting nation with the government implementing a Sporting Nation Blueprint with an allocation of RM103 million.

Among other things, the money will be used to unearth sports talent starting from primary schools, improving the quality of high-performance sports like football, cycling, badminton, sepak takraw, swimming and athletics.

From this year, the first Saturday in November will be celebrated as National Sports Day with the public and private sectors taking part.

Back to Khairy, his criticism against certain sports associations over poor performance, including warnings to suspend government funding, raised eyebrows and incurred the wrath of the Malaysian Sepak Takraw Association especially its president Datuk Ahmad Ismail.

But Khairy more than proved his point about sports officials who are too complacent to move out of their comfort zones when the Malaysian sepak takraw team was beaten at the Asian Games by South Korea, a country that only picked up the sport lately while sepak takraw originated from Malaysia.
This was the lowest point in our sepak takraw history with some newspapers calling it a humiliation.
In cracking the whip against non-performance, Khairy said earlier this month that Malaysia needed new approaches and to make that happen, new people to execute them.

Heads are also expected to roll in the National Sports Institute (NSI), which like the NSC, comes under the Sports Ministry.

"Actually, the failure to achieve the medal targets at the Commonwealth and Asian Games this year rests more with the NSI as they did not provide enough support services in the area of sports science and medicine," a highly-placed sports official told me.

He said education programmes on doping were also lacking, citing as an example wushu exponent Tai Cheau Xuen, who was stripped of the gold medal she won at the Asian Games after testing positive for a banned stimulant.

Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, secretary-general of the Malaysian Olympic Council and the country's longest-serving sports administrator, said while he felt that it was unfair for Zolkples to be the "scapegoat" for below-par performances at the two games, where the NSC could be faulted was that it had been running on "auto pilot" on more or less the same programme and plans since it was formed in 1983.

He told me the programme is to identify elite athletes, place them at the Bukit Jalil Sports School, train them with the hope that they will win medals. The drawback of this approach is that those who are not selected into the elite squad are out in the cold although quite often they are good athletes but did not make it to the squad because they have no opportunities to prove themselves.

"The present system of training elite athletes is easy to manage and run but is very exclusive and is not opened to open competitions for selection of the best athletes to represent the country. This system must change but there will be many challenges for any change because the present system is very good to the government officers running the programme," said Sieh.

The standard of a large number of sports in Malaysia is declining while other countries in Southeast Asia like Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia are improving.

"There will be even worse results in the coming 28th SEA Games in June 2015 in Singapore. The signs are there and Minister Khairy Jamaluddin should be prepared for a big shock," Sieh said.
If the government continues to spoon-feed and pamper the national and state sports associations instead of helping them to be independent and be able to raise their own funds, sports development will never be sustainable.

Sieh said his biggest disappointment is that the country still has to rely almost 100% on foreign expertise in sports such as coaches, advisers, consultants and even managers while in the fields of medicine, engineering, law, accountancy and others there are capable Malaysians running the professions.

He delivered another stinger by asking: "Are Malaysian sports leaders more stupid than other Malaysians? Many want sports leaders to be changed and indeed there have been leadership changes in some organisations but the new ones turned out to be worse than the old ones."

Azman Ujang is a former editor-in-chief of Bernama. Comments:

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