The three-decade honeymoon for NSAs must end with reforms

12 Dec 2022 09:54pm
Hannah Yeoh speaking to media members during a press conference at the Youth and Sports Ministry on Dec 6, 2022. (Photo by BERNAMA)
Hannah Yeoh speaking to media members during a press conference at the Youth and Sports Ministry on Dec 6, 2022. (Photo by BERNAMA)

The pindrop silence within circles keenly anticipating the naming of the new Youth and Sports Minister since Hannah Yeoh was announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on Dec 2 must surely have meant vast disappointment on many accounts.

Unsurprising because many had their 'prefered' candidates, with even the usual project-extensions and proposals readied on standby in the hope of a friendly party that would be coerced into complicity of mainly needless public expenditure that has been the bane to growth and development of sport for at least the past three decades.

That Hannah set the tone from her first press conference that she was not looking to implement new programmes and focus on policies and strengthening existing ones might have stung a few hopefuls further.

By the time the new Deputy Sports Minister Adam Adli Abdul Halim spoke this morning of the need to tackle issues surrounding corruption within national sports associations (NSAs), many of these little cartels and networks that have flourished at the expense of sport might have realised that it might not be business as usual this time around.

That is unless Hannah and Adam Adli too are coerced into going down the same road as many of their predecessors, who have left sport not much better that it was 30 years ago after billions of ringgit in government expenditure that will continue to double if they give up this opportunity to execute reforms which they have stood for throughout their fledgling political careers.

What lacks in Malaysian sport is its industry, which has always been curtailed by the government's continuous spoon-feeding of NSAs to the extent that virtually none operates backed by their own industry in order to be contributors to the gross domestic product (GDP) as is the case in nations with mature sports industries.

In fact, many are seen struggling to even organise their own national competitions without government funding, let alone care for the welfare of their elite athletes. But, having said that, the government are as much complicit to this malaise as the NSAs themselves.

Little cartels have grown and flourished around this fake industry that depends on sustaining and increasing government funding for sports in virtual entirety, while the sports that have not grown are being denied even the potential to grow into self-sufficient industries.

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It all began with a noble idea of the government funding elite athletes under the Jaya 98 programme launched in 1994, where the government via the National Sports Council (NSC) funded the preparation of athletes with potential to deliver at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

This was a concept which was copied from the regimented programmes of the Eastern Bloc nations behind the so-called 'Iron Curtain' back then, whereby athletes were kept under national programmes with their preparation and competitions fully funded by their Communist governments.

In fact, to signify that, many of the coaches brought in then were from former Eastern Bloc nations.

Sport, along with even those former Communist nations, has progressed well beyond such concepts in the past three decades, while Malaysia continues to open its public coffers to abuse by clinging on to such archaic concepts, with no more than little tweaks to suit the times.

It has transcended into abuse of public coffers because NSAs have, to their own detriment, mostly become incapable of developing the industries around their sports as they have found a comfort zone in merely collaborating with the NSC to ensure the funding of what is now descended into a bare minimum of an existence with elite athletes, junior programmes, competitions and even multi-mullion ringgit mega events being funded by the government.

The fact is, there simply is no actual sports industry to talk about when the government is the main stakeholder in Malaysian sport, which funds virtually everything.

To even quantify a sports industry dominated by government spending and dependence on annual budget allocations, is simply fooling ourselves.

The nation should realise that what is required is a total conceptual, structural and economic reform, to empower not curtail its growth.

The umbillical chord that has served a network of parasites for far too long needs to be gradually severed so that sports can grow and eventually be backed by their own industries, run by professionals with actual know-how, not politicians and their proxies.

While on a positive note, there has been growth in the number of qualified sports specialists over the years, their expertise is somewhat curtailed within a subservient nature of government programmes, rather that the unlimited expanse of the global sports industry.

Policies should require NSAs to take ownership of their sports and add value in order to grow.

Ridiculous as it may seem, there are those who are incapable of even raising funds to hold competitions, let alone care for the welfare of their athletes, and yet are helmed by the same people for decades, partly due to the government's complicity in continuing to fund such malaise.

Such a stand must be made in order to free many sports off the stranglehold of ill-performing officials in order for those with the capablities in line with reforms, to transform, commercialise and bring self-sufficiency to their sports, to take charge.

Would reforms be too disruptive?

Growth and progress, especially in sport, is always quantified by results not rethorics.

Over RM20 billion has been spent on sport via the Youth and Sports Ministry since 1994. The medal tally at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta showed Malaysia with one silver and a bronze medal, and 25 years later at the Tokyo Olympics last year, the returns after all those billions of ringgit spent was again a silver and a bronze.

This points to a system that has grown far too comfortable with its sustained mediocrity, while nations whose coffers have been taxed far less have seen multiple Olympic gold medals delivered by independent athletes backed by self-sufficient industries.

That should convince us enough to finally bring an end to this three decades long honeymoon enjoyed by the NSAs at taxpayers' expense.

Arnaz M. Khairul is a sportswriter, media consultant and former South East Asia representative of the International Association of Cycling Journalists (AIJC).

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.

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