Monday, December 29, 2014

A year to forget for MNCF

Malaysian cycling could have gone places if only the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) had put its house in order.

The federation, which has the responsibility to develop, promote and protect the sport, collapsed this year following a suspension by the Sports Commissioner over allegations of MNCF's management of government funds.

But firstly, some positive notes to take into 2015 and beyond. Mainly, that is the promise Malaysian cycling has built over the past decade.

What must be left behind is the malaise that has caused the MNCF to go backwards.
The bright side to 2014 was provided mainly by the feats of Mohd Firdaus Mohd Zonis and Fatehah Mustapa.

Firdaus, 18, twice created history. He was the first Malaysian to complete the treble of sprint, keirin and 1km time trial gold medals twice at the Asian Junior Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan in May.

He hit the headlines again at the Juniors Track World Championships in Gwangmyeong, South Korea in August, where he delivered a bronze medal in the 1km time trial after being controversially disqualified from the keirin.

Firdaus was only the second Malaysian to win a medal at the junior world meet after Adiq Husainie Othman’s scratch race bronze medal in Moscow in 2010.

Firdaus was by far the brightest spark in a gloomy year for Malaysian cycling, but luckily there was at least another one worth mentioning.

While overall, Malaysia slumped to their worst performances in 20 years at both the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Asian Games in Incheon, Fatehah showed it wasn't all bad when she became the first Malaysian woman to win a cycling medal in Incheon with her silver medal in the keirin.

Fatehah showed signs of emergence on the world stage when she became the first Malaysian woman to win a World Cup medal, bagging the silver in the keirin in the final round of that series in Guadalajara, Mexico in January.

It was undoubtedly a low key year for established stars like Azizulhasni Awang, Josiah Ng, Anuar Manan, Harrif Saleh and the road squad.

Azizulhasni’s year was capped by a bronze medal in the keirin at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, while his silver at the Asian Games was controversially taken away after he was relegated due to an infringement. That saw veteran Josiah, who  would later announce his retirement after next year’s World Championships in France, move up to take the silver.

The track squad at least maintained their spot among the challengers at the top echelon, albeit their dominance in sprint events was somewhat broken at the Asian Championships in Kazakhstan in April.

The track junior programme, run in tandem with the National Sports Council (NSC) also remained the only one which continued to evolve with events unaffected by the controversy that marred Malaysian cycling this year.

A rider revolt in the 2013 Sea Games in Myanmar sparked an outcry towards the ill-management of the road squad and a poorly run MNCF road programme which had failed to deliver even at Sea Games level since multi-million government funding for it began in 2007.

Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin stepped in, and an investigation began, bringing about a ministry internal audit into MNCF's accounts related to government funds, which resulted in various adverse findings including financial mismanagement, conflicts of interest and various weaknesses in the federations handling of finances.

That investigation came following the MNCF's insistence to run the road programme on its own, without the involvement of the NSC, against Khairy's instructions for it to do so following failure in Myanmar. This saw the road programme failing to deliver a gold medal for the fourth straight Sea Games, despite road cyclists performing admirably on the UCI Asia Tour.

Irregularities were discovered in the MNCF's handling of funds for its road programme, activities and for the organisation of Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) between 2011 and 2013.

Eventually that resulted in the MNCF being handed a 30-day suspension on Oct 27 by the Sports Commissioner for breaches of its own constitution, which hasn't been lifted with Khairy looking to study the related-files further before making a final decision.

While the case was being investigated, the MNCF was again exposed for its failure to settle payments of prizemoney for the 19th edition of LTdL in March, despite the ministry having deposited the RM900,000 required for that purpose into its accounts in January.

To make matters worse, the MNCF admitted that the money had been spent on other purposes as it would reimburse payments upon the government's release of an annual grant of RM1.5 million for its development programme.

Prize money amounting to RM120,000 from the 2013 edition of the Jelajah Malaysia was also yet to be paid out to teams, leaving the MNCF with more explaining to do.

While government funds for MNCF in the past seven years have trickled to almost a stop now, the national body was also relieved of co-organising duties of LTdL after it was handed to Human Voyage Sdn Berhad in October.

Malaysian cycling has pedalled itself into problems under the MNCF.
But 2014 also showed that cycling in the country isn't just about the MNCF, as the grassroots and mass participation sector continued to grow by leaps and bounds with weekly non-sanctioned events predominantly for mountain biking with an increasing number of road events booming.

These weekly events, some held annually, grew into mammoth events albeit run by enthusiasts, with consistent turnouts of over 2,000 participants, with the culture seeing a positive growth in Sabah and Sarawak, where this year several exciting series took off.

What is worth noting about the growth in this sector is the mushrooming of clubs and community-based events throughout the country, which complement the government's sporting nation blueprint.

It is clear that much more is ready to be achieved if the MNCF becomes a body that embraces development and growth by first breaking down the barriers that restrict its reach to within only its office bearers and affiliates. There is a bigger picture that the MNCF needs to open up to.


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