Saturday, October 26, 2013

Weed out the party poopers

Friday, October 25, 2013 - The Malay Mail


BOUQUETS to Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) president Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad and his council members for selecting only athletes who have qualified on merit for the Myanmar Sea Games to be held in Naypyidaw in December.
They have also selected the seven athletes who are in the top three of the Southeast Asia ranking list.
However, MAF have come under fire for naming nine athletes for the relays in the name of "national interest", although only the men's 4x400m quartet qualified on merit.
Maybe MAF can be excused for making the compromise.
After all, the relays are ‘the’ events in any athletics meet, other than the sprints.
Besides, those selected for the relays are budding athletes being groomed for the future.
That aside, MAF’s stand not to send veteran athletes Lee Hup Wei (high jump) and Noraseela Khalid and Robani Hassan (hurdles), who failed to meet the qualifying marks, should be applauded.
Finally, the right message is being sent to the athletes — there is no such thing as a free ticket. They have to earn their place.
If the other sports associations can adopt the same stance, then the standard of sports in the country will be elevated.
For too long, compromises have been made, especially in the hope that veteran athletes would win medals based on their experience even if their current form suggested otherwise.
In fact, the only time exceptions can be made is when an up-and-coming athlete is close to the qualifying mark or if it is felt the exposure would do the athlete some good. Then, too, the expenses for sending such athletes should be borne by the association or sponsor.
For the Myanmar Games, 529 athletes — 404 under category A (qualified on merit) and 125 under category B (sponsored by associations who will be reimbursed if the athletes win gold [fully] or silver [partially]) — have been listed for selection by the Olympic Council of Malaysia.
The National Sports Council (NSC), who are grooming athletes through their Pelapis (back-up) programme, have requested MAF to include nine of their interns under category B.
But this is a peculiar situation because MAF, as the governing body of athletics, should be overseeing development as they know the performance of the athletes well.
NSC should engage MAF fully in their programme or have the body run the programme for them because, after all, they are the experts.
In fact, several sports associations have given up development because NSC have taken over the role. This situation needs to be revisited to ensure that sports associations are held accountable for the rise and fall of their respective sports, not NSC.
NSC could assist with funding and monitoring to ensure the programmes are running smoothly and according to plan.
One good programme that was in place — and whose respective associations were actively involved and results were forthcoming — was Sukan Teras. It involved the eight elite sports of football, hockey, badminton, squash, bowling, gymnastics, aquatics and athletics.
Sadly, the programme, which was approved exactly nine years ago today (Oct 25, 2004), was derailed five years ago by NSC, which cited lack of funds.
Also, 50% or 224 centres for various sports throughout the country were closed so that Pelapis could be enhanced.
This national scheme now has 139 athletes training full time under 40 coaches. Its academies around the country have 96 athletes and 21 coaches in total.
The 241 state centres have 4,773 athletes involved in programmes and 347 registered coaches.
The question is, with so much in place, why is there still a dearth of talent when it comes to selection for international meets? Why do we have to make compromises to send a decent contingent?
Clearly, it is not about numbers or plans on paper, but about execution, proper selection and training, qualified coaches, competition and, above all, transparency.
For starters, the national sports associations should play a more active role in development instead of allowing NSC to do it for them.
Maybe then the need to send athletes who have not qualified on merit would not arise, and maybe we would have a bigger pool of talent knocking on the door to make the cut for meets.
The situation faced in the selection of high jumpers, where six qualified but only the two current best can make the trip (Sea Games allows only two entries per event), is healthy and good for the development of sports. This should be the goal of all sports associations.
Defending champion Lee Hup Wei, despite his season’s best of 2.22m, failed to make the cut as he finished fourth with a 2.10m jump at last weekend’s Malaysia Open because of a back injury.
Newcomers Nauraj Singh Randhawa and S. Navin Raj qualified with jumps of 2.20m and 2.15m respectively.
Whether or not the duo go on to win the gold in Myanmar, their presence certainly augurs well for the future of athletics.

TONY MARIADASS is sports editor of
The Malay Mail. He can be reached

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