Saturday, November 22, 2014

Yes, Minister

COMMENTARY    

Level Field



 Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin is spot-on in launching the Talent Identification and Development (MyTID) System – a move to stop the declining standard of Malaysian sports.
Khairy was also responsible for the National Football Development Programme (NFDP) launched by the Prime Minister himself earlier this year.
One cannot go wrong by emphasising sports development because if implemented correctly and monitored well with the right people in charge, it guarantees not only results in the future but also the availability of a big pool of talent to choose from.
The only problem with development is that there are no immediate results. It requires tons of hard work, patience and time to bear fruit. It is also a thankless job.
Khairy has also done well by not only recognising the differences between the stakeholders of the programme, namely the National Sports Council (NSC), National Sports  Institute (NSI) and the Ministry of Education  (MoE), but asked them to work together to ensure the success of MyTID.
He sees, rightly, clubs as the backbone of sports development and has said that part of the 2015 budget for the latter will go towards spurring the involvement of clubs and strengthening their roles in the whole process.
MyTID is the biggest-ever grassroots development programme so far, launched with a RM34 million budget and an ambitious target to see some 100,000 pupils from 1,500 schools screened by the end of next year. This will be broadened to 500,000 pupils from 7,000 schools by 2019.
MyTID is probably the best thing to happen to Malaysian sports when it is declining at such an alarming rate, no thanks to the apathy of many national sports associations.
The plans all look good on paper, but the million-ringgit question is that whether they will survive the test of time and will they be properly managed?
There have been previous talent identification programmes and as confirmed by Khairy, there was a RM3 million allocation for them. He revealed that less than 1% of those identified by the previous programmes were absorbed into the back-up training programme.
So, what will be different this time around?
Yes, the good minister has said no more excuses this time around, especially as his reputation is at stake. But in Malaysian sports, we have short memory. We launch programmes in a big way, make strong recommendations whenever there is a debacle, come up with all sorts of suggestions and everyone has something to say. But when it comes to execution, we fail miserably.
Every time a new issue arises, old matters that were raised take a backseat and more often than not, are forgotten.
To recap, just last month there was a hue and cry about the Incheon Asian Games debacle and all sorts of recommendations came up. Prior to that, it was the Glasgow Commonwealth Games fiasco, which was the highlight of the month. Then along came the Lee Chong Wei saga and everything is now quiet on all the other fronts.
Next, all attention will probably shift to the Sea Games in Singapore in seven months and since it is just across the Causeway, everyone will want a piece of the action in the name of development, exposure, minimum cost factor and wanting to study how Singapore organises the Games as we are the next host.
The plan to be more careful in selecting the athletes, raise the qualifications for the Games, exercise prudence and all other matters discussed after the earlier two debacles will probably go out the window.
Will the same thing happen to MyTID after its novelty wears off?
Already, there are some grumblings about the NFDP, which is under the stewardship of former international Lim Teong Kim. The coaches are unhappy and there are questions about the selection process and whether the right people are handling the job, especially at grassroots level.
My biggest concern is, what will happen to MyTID and NFDP if Khairy is moved to a different ministry in a Cabinet reshuffle?
We have had so many programmes die prematurely once the minister who initiated them left office. Remember Talent Identification, Sports for All, Sports Culture and Sports Industry?
The next minister usually does not carry on his predecessor’s programmes because he wants to leave his own legacy behind.
Khairy has said the NFDP is a national agenda but he must make sure that it is gazetted and does not disappear after he leaves the ministry.
The civil servants in the ministry, NSC and NSI themselves are equally guilty as every time a new minister comes on board, they abandon the old programmes.
One wonders what happens to all the pre-approved budget – is it channelled into different and new programmes or is it written off?
A lot of money has been allocated for sports development this time around and let us hope that it is used wisely for the programmes initiated by Khairy.
Otherwise, it will be more public money down the drain and sports in the country remaining in the doldrums.

TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than three
decades of experience and is ­­­­­
passionate about local sports. He
can be reached at tmariadass@
gmail.com. Twitter handle: @
tmariadass



Friday, November 14, 2014

Everyone at fault

COMMENTARY  

Level Field

(H) Everyone at fault
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is guilty in the current doping episode involving Datuk Lee Chong Wei?
The chances are whoever stands in front of the mirror and asks the question will get the same reply: you are all guilty.
Yes, this includes the player himself, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), the National Sports Institute (NSI), the coaches, sponsors, the media and the fans themselves.
We have to get to the bottom of who administered the dexamethasone (a drug used to aid an athlete’s rehabilitation and which is permitted outside competition because it is not performance-enhancing) and when.
It is pointless looking for a scapegoat because everyone involved in Chong Wei’s preparations and recovery for competition should be held responsible.
Personally, I think the matter has been blown out of proportions and is just complicating matters.
Let’s be honest with ourselves.
Officials, coaches and associations always want their injured athletes back in competition as soon as possible. The athletes are seldom given enough time to recover through the normal process with treatment and physiotherapy.
Chong Wei, for one, has on countless occasions been required to be on the court for crucial competitions because he is our only hope for success and our back-up players are not good enough.
Now, whose fault is it that we don’t have a crop of top players but just one who is pressured to play without looking at the consequences?
Chong Wei too is to be blamed for agreeing to compete in almost every competition. Whether he had the option to skip some of the tournaments or was compelled to compete by BAM or the sponsors or he wanted the money is a question left to be answered.
The World Badminton Federation requires top ten ranked players to compete in tournaments and skipping tournaments will see them fined. But if a player is genuinely injured, he surely must be given the option to skip.
Probably, Chong Wei was under pressure to compete in the BWF World Championship in Copenhagen in August (he lost to China's Chen Long in the final), where the fiasco began after his urine sample tested positive.
He claims that he has undergone 124 doping tests over the last 15 years of playing badminton, all of which tested negative. So, he should have known better than to allow dexamethasone to be injected into him so close to or during a championship.
Maybe it was a rare case of the drug lingering in his body longer than the expected 36 to 54 hours.
Now, to call Chong Wei a cheat is indeed unfair because, for starters, dexamethasone is not a performance-enhancing drug. It is a form of medication that is widely used to aid in recovery from surgery and the fact that it is allowed to be administered by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) out of competition for rehabilitation certainly has to be taken into account.
WADA has listed out clearly all the procedures that need to be taken to handle such cases.
But almost everyone is talking about Chong Wei facing a two-year ban if found guilty.
The world-governing body imposed a provisional suspension on the player last week after his B sample also tested positive due to an adverse analytical finding.
The BWF has referred the matter to its doping hearing panel and in due course, the chair of the panel will set the time, date and location for a hearing.
The panel will determine whether or not the athlete violated an anti-doping regulation.
So, let us just wait for the hearing. With his unblemished image and the fact that the drug was an anti-inflammatory substance, Chong Wei could just be given a reduced sentence or even let off the hook with a severe warning.
Whatever happens, let’s give Chong Wei a chance to prove his innocence, or ignorance in this particular case, and see what the BWF hearing panel decides.
Chong Wei, in the meantime, should take this whole ugly episode in his stride as much as it is troubling and stressful. He should come out of this a stronger person and prove all his critics wrong.
If a reduced suspension is meted out, he should use the time to recharge himself and come back even stronger and try to complete some of his unfinished business, including winning the Olympic gold medal.
It will not be an impossible task for the player, who is known for his discipline, dedication and determination.
But if ever Chong Wei decides to call it quits, he would indeed be a disappointed man as he will bow out a tainted player after all the achievements he has under his belt.
But whatever decision he makes must be respected for he has given so much to this nation all these years.
Meantime, this episode should serve as a timely warning to not only badminton but all others sports – the national associations cannot depend on just one or two players and ‘abuse’ them. They have to seriously undertake development programmes for a constant flow of athletes to carry our flag.
Just look at China. In any sports, they have a pool of players who can become world champions any time.
So, let us all take the blame for what has happened to Chong Wei and not allow something like this to happen again.
TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than three
decades of experience and is ­­­­­
passionate about local sports. He
can be reached at tmariadass@
gmail.com. Twitter handle: @
tmariadass


Friday, November 7, 2014

Grass up in smoke




COMMENTARY  

Level Field

 Grass up in smoke
How many studies need to be done on the laying of turf at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil to end the never-ending woes of poor surface since the stadium as opened in 1998?
The stadium was closed for six months for the laying of Bermuda Princess 77 turf at a cost of RM1.5 million and was used for the Malaysia Cup final last Saturday.
Sadly, the pitch was literally ripped apart during the match probably because the grass had not taken root yet. Besides, it had rained the whole day before the game. The ground was soggy and the hard-fought battle between Pahang and Johor Darul Takzim ensured its destruction.
Sometimes one wonders if the authorities take into consideration the findings of the studies done on turf suited for Malaysian weather. Or maybe they just want to see a beautiful pitch, which, when played on, turns into a nightmare.
From what I know, most types of Bermuda turf are usually used for golf courses.
Previously, the turf used at the National Stadium was seashore paspalum, replacing the original Bermuda grass on the basis that it was more durable, required low maintenance and had a soft, cushiony feel and dense canopy.

This choice was made despite two football pitches in the city with paspalum surface that were not exactly perfect.
Seashore paspalum is an environmental grass that grows on sandy beaches, the banks of estuaries frequently inundated by salt water and along the banks of coastal rivers.

Coming back to Bermuda Princess 77, another study is expected to be done. The big question is, who is going to pay for the blunder and wastage of millions of ringgit? Heads must roll, besides that of Malaysia Stadium Corporation (MSC) chief executive officer Ahmad Helmi Harun.
Finding a perfect pitch for the National Stadium is no rocket science. Just look at the durable cow grass that has been used in the Merdeka Stadium all these years and other stadiums like the Darulmakmur in Kuantan and Selayang Municipality Stadium who have opted for cowgrass.
Or the authorities could take a short drive to the Royal Selangor Club in Mont Kiara and ask them about their immaculate pitch. Or consult the Johor FA on the Larkin Stadium, which had new turf laid last year and is now rated the best in the country and comparable to any top-class pitch in Europe.
I remember way back in December 1981 when I wrote an article with colleague Rajan Etickan on repair works at the Merdeka Stadium. The problem at the time was not the grass but poor drainage.
The stadium board spent only RM780,000 on soil amendment (RM46,250), rectification of underground drain (RM93,210), installation of automatic water sprinkler ((RM130,000), re-turfing (RM87,600), contract preliminaries (RM30,000), contingency fees (RM150,000) and professional fees (RM100,000).
The grass used then was zoysia metrella.
In fact, besides cow grass, zoysia metrella was recommended for the National Stadium. According to Ahmad Helmi, who has admitted to having erred on the selection of Bermuda Princess 77, the latter grass is one of the options they are looking at.
Granted, the repairs at the Merdeka Stadium were done 33 years ago and of course the cost has increased. But the point is, it was a good job and the turf has survived the test of time.
If only MSC had looked at the series of detailed and well-researched articles written by former Malay Mail sportswriter Rizal Hashim from May 2005 to May 2006, they would not have gone wrong.
So, what did go wrong?
Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has said there was no abuse of funds in the upgrading and re-turfing of the National Stadium. If that is the case, then who approved the turf and based on whose recommendations?
This is not the first time the resurfacing of the National Stadium has gone awry.
Everyone involved in the mess needs to be held accountable because huge sums of money have gone up in smoke.
Reasons like the turf at Bukit Jalil only receives one to two hours of sunlight daily and they had to use ‘grow lights and blowers’ does not hold water. There are top class pitches around the world who hardly have sunlight or adverse weather conditions.
But Khairy had also said that the current grass may be moved into an indoor if the turf is replaced so that it is not wasted.
Now wondering how the turf is going to survive without sunlight? So it is just money wasted because of a wrong decision?
Another point, MSC have to seriously consider is that having a perfect pitch means having a professional team of groundsmen.
We have more often than not been guilty of having first class facilities, but third-class management or maintenance.
Funds are also not budgeted and allocation for maintenance.
Another area the Stadium management have to make a bold decision is whether concerts and other non-sports relate events be allowed to be held at the National Stadium.
Maybe, it is about time to have the National Stadium specially dedicated only for sports and have concerts and other events in indoor stadiums.
In the past we have seen the National Stadium used for concerts special coverings are used for the grass, but the pitch was still affected.
This was because the coverings were not removed quickly enough by the time they were removed, the grass had turned yellow and will have little time to recover. These areas then turned into bald patches. The blame was put on the organisers of such events as they were the ones responsible for removing the covering.
But the time has come for Malaysia Stadium Corporation to get their act right once and for all after so many foul-ups. Otherwise, maybe the time has come to seriously considering giving the management of the turf to a foreign expert company with a good record.
Hopefully, there will not be another foul-up in appointing the company.

TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than three
decades of experience and is ­­­­­
passionate about local sports. He
can be reached at tmariadass@
gmail.com. Twitter handle: @
tmariadass

Friday, October 31, 2014

Royal battle




COMMENTARY  



Level Field



(H) Royal battle



The Malaysia Cup, which has a history that dates back to 1921 (when it was known as the Malaya Cup), has never failed to produce a special kind of magic, with the final more often than not bringing the nation to a standstill.



Tomorrow’s final is not going to be any different, but it could well be the ‘mother of all finals’ in the history of the competition.



If previously a final between Selangor and Singapore created a sort of mania (Selangor have emerged champions 32 times and runner-up 15 times, while Singapore have been crowned 24 times and lost 19 times), this time around, Pahang and Johor Darul Takzim could give new meaning to the match.



For starters, it is a royal battle as the Pahang president is Tengku Abdul Rahman Sultan Ahmad Shah, the Tengku Muda of Pahang, while Johor FA president is Tunku Mahkota Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.



Tengku Abdul Rahman has been at the helm of Pahang FA for eleven years now, while Tunku Ismail is into his second year at Johor FA.



Both men are very passionate about the game and have done immensely to uplift it in their respective states.



While Tengku Abdul Rahman took the long development route and worked with a small budget, Tunku Ismail went professional, buying calibre players, but not overlooking development for the future.



Tengku Abdul Rahman saw his dream come true when Pahang won the Malaysia Cup last year after a 21-year drought.

It had been an arduous road for Tengku Abdul Rahman with many ups and downs. Pahang had a good team in the 1990s, but from 2000 onwards, they went through a difficult patch. That was when Tengku Abdul Rahman took the helm of Pahang FA and decided that he should focus more on local players. The Shahzan Muda Football Club was formed (14 years ago) to develop young talent and give them exposure through the FAM Cup.

And Pahang have reaped the fruits of their labours. Today, the majority of the players from Shahzan have graduated to the senior team, although the youth team are still in existence and continue to produce players.

Pahang are a low-budget team — they spend about a quarter of the highest spenders in the league.


Tengku Abdul Rahman had said he does not want to wait another 21 years to win the Malaysia Cup and having qualified for their second Cup final is already an achievement. Pahang also have won the Charity Shield and FA Cup besides finishing fourth in the League this season.

They won the Super League title in 2004 and the FA Cup in 2006 too.


But retaining the Malaysia Cup will mean a great deal to Pahang and Tengku Abdul Rahman, as everyone knows that winning a trophy is easier than defending it.

It has certainly not been an easy ride for Pahang with Zainal Abidin Hassan having to take over as chief coach from Dollah Salleh.

In contrast, Johor DT over the two years have been going on a spending spree and through trial and error finally have a team that is firing on all cylinders.

Johor last won the Malaysia Cup in 1991, beating Selangor 3-1, and are in a similar position as Pahang last year. They will definitely be hungry for success and to make all that money spent worth its while.

Johor also won the Cup in 1985 when they beat Kuala Lumpur 2-0.

Johor is also the Super League champion this year and a second trophy will surely be sweet.

What better final can we ask for with the defending Malaysia Cup and 2014 FA Cup champion up against the 2014 Super League champion?

The final will definitely be a clear case of a team development versus a team built in two years with millions of ringgit spent.

Both teams have a huge fan base and that will certainly heighten the electrifying atmosphere of the final, while on the pitch some of the best players, local and foreign, will be on parade.

But while the fans have been ever loyal to their teams, they have to keep their emotions in check and accept the end-result sportingly. The last thing we need is hooliganism spoiling a grand night.

Both teams have a list of reasons why they should win the coveted Cup, but at the end of the day, the team who want it more will triumph.

The other night on television, I saw Pahang’s Dickson Nwakaeme singing our national anthem with his teammates before the start of the game. Now that is something which will spur the local players in his team.

It is not going to be an easy battle as both teams will come out with guns blazing and the match officials for the night will play a crucial part in ensuring an entertaining and fair final.

All in all, I am expecting the final to be nothing short of sizzling that could well be decided by penalty kicks and end the next day (past midnight). As I am all for long-term planning and development, I see Pahang winning but very narrowly.

Good luck both teams. Hope you rock the Bukit Jalil Stadium!

Footnote: The tournament began in 1921, when it was called the Malaya Cup. The original trophy was presented by the officers and men of a British battleship, the HMS Malaya. In honour of this, the competition was renamed the HMS Malaya Cup in 1933. A new trophy was inaugurated in 1967, and since then the competition has been known as the Malaysia Cup.