Yet fed via umbilical cord, Malaysian sport on its deathbed

22 Feb 2023 07:19pm
Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh her deputy Adam Adli Abdul Halim with staff from the ministry. Is the Youth and Sports Ministry the answer to all that ails Malaysian sport?
Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh her deputy Adam Adli Abdul Halim with staff from the ministry. Is the Youth and Sports Ministry the answer to all that ails Malaysian sport?

SHAH ALAM - Much time has been wasted in the development of athletes and of sports simply by waiting for money to fall from the sky. Literally.

For at virtually every turn in a run around sports circles currently, officials are found in high anticipation of Budget 2023 to be tabled in Parliament by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on Friday.

Some expectant of increased allocations, others merely hopeful.

Some under pressure Sea Games hopefuls simply can't wait for Anwar to get it over and done with, since they were informed by Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh that the funds for their final preparations would be released after the annual budget is retabled for the first time in history by the Prime Minister.

These hopefuls were left perplexed as they had been given this answer by Hannah, shortly after they witnessed the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup fanfare on 24 big screens across the country last January, which somehow did not require the Prime Minister's budget tabling to be funded despite not being a pressing issue.

This should have been yet another signal for national sports associations to realise they have for far too long put too much at stake by choosing to remain in this comfort zone cushioned by funding from a government, which in turn and despite various ministers in charge, inadvertently deprive sports of their independence and industry.

In no developed nation do Sports Ministers, government officials or even office bearers of national bodies hog the headlines and airtime more than the athletes of any sport.

Which simply justifies that Malaysia is nowhere near such status as it is those people who the media religiously prop up, acting to the effect of clandestine political strategic communications machinery parading as media.

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Again, this deprives sports of the mileage that would drive industries as media eagerly await the next congregation at a ministerial press conference, rather than pursue the next big star training in the backroads or junior camps nationwide.

It is a culture that is comfortable to its practitioners, highly beneficial to the politicians using sport as platforms to advance their image and power brokers, but absolutely detrimental to the development and progress of sport.

And the damning results, after 30 years of decadent submission to the structural destruction of Malaysian sport, is there for all to see.

Again, we must realise that almost 30 years since the Jaya 98 programme was launched in 1994 to prepare the elite athletes for the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur under a regimented system adapted from now archaic Cold War Eastern bloc states, the results at Olympic and international multisports events are no different from the first Olympics since the programme - the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where Malaysia returned with a silver and bronze medal.

Results at the Commonwealth Games have not surpassed Malaysia's 10 gold medal haul in 1998, neither has there been much improvement at Asian Games level, with the best haul coming in Guangzhou in 2010 where nine gold medals. Evidently, the results have not vastly improved.

The only thing that significant shift that has happened in the past 30 years is the government becoming, by some margin, the main stakeholder in Malaysian sport, by stranglehold.

Locked in a stranglehold which by now sees most national sports associations (NSA) in a virtually dysfunctional state, yet some often enough making their presence felt through media coverage of power struggles and bickering over posts that have failed to improve their sports despite three decades of being latched on to the umbilical cord that feeds government funds.

Which makes most of their talk of developing sport seem so artificial.

Government officials in the main agencies under the Youth and Sports Ministry too are in on the malaise, securing the obedience of NSAs through chokeholds as they determine the funds that go into now not only the preparation of elite athletes, but the development and events as well.

In fact mega events such as Le Tour de Langkawi, which had been privately funded since its inception in 1996, fallen to a supposedly temporary arrangement to save the race following massive debts in 2007, and now seen the government fork out between RM8-RM30 million each year, with more than RM200 million already spent on an event which was supposed to be industry-backed and privately funded.

And within the Youth and Sports Ministry itself, there has been no effort to return it to its former glory or bin it altogether, since it does benefit some.

This makes what Hannah stated on stage at the 30th Anniversary Dinner of the Malaysian Cub Prix Championship last Friday, where she urged NSAs to take the organisers as an example of how an organisation had managed to build an industry-backed, self-sufficient eco-system entirely without government funding.

Ironically, this also serves as an example to Hannah of how the Malaysian Cub Prix Championship launched in 1994, the same year as the Jaya 98 programme under her ministry began, with the results 30 years later painting a picture of how a government has failed despite billions of ringgit in taxpayers' expenditure.

It has failed not just in terms of results, but it has left virtually all sports without industries and eco-systems they can rely on, while the cartels within government agencies have grown in influence, almost promising to sustain this failed system that by now has been devised to secure benefits only for those who are complicit.

That a minister announces a plan to deliver an Olympic gold medal next year as her main priority, again displays that the system would remain status quo, as the sale and marketing of such dreams secures budget allocations, keep the NSAs obedient and submissive, while the actual growth of sport as industries remain a topic that requires further government expenditure.

Reforms were what this government had promised, but even for Prime Minister Anwar, the man whose brainchild was for the very growth of the sports industry nationwide through his brainchild which was the Malaysia Games in 1986, this one reform too far for his government to effectively engage in.

Thus the initiative should rest in the hands of the NSAs themselves to wake up from their 30 year slumber and realise they can do more by growing their sports than wait for government funds that limit even their own activities.

There are some who already have acted to begin pulling themselves out of the deathbed laid for their sports through government funding and have initiated moves to market, monetise and fund their sports privately.

Still there will others who will villify the views in this very commentary and brand the writer as anti-establishment.

But none will be able to substantively deny that excesses (and pilferage) of taxpayers funds for the past 30 years have caused such practical, systemic, moral and cultural damage to Malaysian sport.

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