Friday, July 25, 2014

No time to waste

A Chinese boy carries a bag of footballs as he heads for training at the Evergrande International Football School. The 167-acre campus is the brainchild of property tycoon Xu Jiayin, whose ambition is to train a generation of young athletes to establish China as a football powerhouse. — Picture by Getty

OFFICIALS from the National Sports Associations (NSA) have to start thinking outside the box to take their sports to the next level.
Just conducting traditional development programmes with minimal supervision is no longer good enough.
Even the recently launched National Football Development Programme (NFDP) that aims to see more than 52,000 players trained by 2020, is no guarantee Malaysia’s dream of playing in the World Cup will be a reality.
But at least a concerted eff ort is being made to elevate football’s standard. Malaysia had in 1999 targeted qualifying for this year’s World Cup, but fell in the second stage of preliminary qualifying to Singapore.
At the recent World Cup, Australia, at No 62, were the lowest ranked country among the 32 teams. That should give us a clear picture of our chances — we share No. 151 place with India in Fifa’s rankings. In Asia, we are ranked 27th among the Asian Football Confederation’s 46 members.
Not surprisingly, Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said this week reviews are underway and Olympic status may not be enough for sports to continue enjoying government funding.
The National Sports Council (NSC) has 19 core sports, but it has to conduct a stock taking and kick out associations who don’t perform.
We have to be cruel to be kind. NSAs have to be more independent and source their own funds. Talent scouting has to be done in rural areas with centralised training centres in places where talent is available, not just in Kuala Lumpur. Take China. They are ranked No. 103 in football and are working to qualify for the World Cup. If you think Malaysia’s football plan is good, then China’s is great.
BBC recently aired a programme on the Evergrande Football School, situated about an hour from the southern city of Guangzhou, that is meant to change China’s football fortunes.
In terms of facilities, the school boasts an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts and 42 full-sized football pitches! With places for 2,300 students, the boarding school off ers normal academic lessons and football sessions — at least an hour a day — conducted by a team of Real Madrid-trained coaches.
The centre was built in less than a year at a cost of almost US$200 million (RM634.4 million) and is the brainchild of the billionaire owner of one of China’s biggest football clubs, Guangzhou Evergrande.
The school claims high-level political support too. Chinese President Xi Jinping has three wishes — to qualify for, to host and to win the World Cup.
But even a grand plan like that has its faults. Only those who can aff ord it can join the school, will China’s best players be represented? What about all the talent among the poor?
Other countries have their own sports programme to achieve excellence and bring honour to their country. It is a battle out there and Malaysia are minnows in the pond.
We need to get it right from now.

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

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