Friday, August 15, 2014

Fair play in sports starts at selection

FRIDAY, AUGUST 15, 2014 the Malay Mail

IT is about time we stopped kidding ourselves that everything is fine with our selection system.

Until we practise fairness and impartiality, Malaysian sports is never going to be represented by the best. 

Sports should be blind to race, creed and colour, and in a multiracial country like ours, it is even more important to adhere to this philosophy strictly.

All the 1Malaysia aspirations will come to naught if we do not practise what we preach. No matter how much we want to stay away from the subject or address the situation, it is happening all around us.

It is pointless to believe that everything is in order and sweep the issue under the carpet because it is going to haunt us and undermine our overall performance.

I would like to believe that everything is fine, but several issues that were brought to my attention have proved me wrong. It seems sports in this country is not fair after all.

It immediately brought back memories of the early 1980s when I was a rookie reporter and had written about middle-distance runner and Asean schools' gold medallist S. Ganesan. He was denied a place at the then Universiti Pertanian because the Victoria Institution lad had attained a Grade 2 in his Malaysian Certificate of Education examination. No exception was made in Ganesan's case although he was a national schools athlete and had won honours for the country.
The then Sports Minister, the late Tan Sri Dr Sulaiman Daud, whom I had interviewed soon after he assumed his new post after having served the Education Ministry, had said he would ensure that athletes who performed well were given some form of exemption for entry into institutions of higher learning.
After reading the article, Ganesan asked if I could help him meet Dr Sulaiman to plead his case. I told Ganesan to come to Merdeka Stadium where Dr Sulaiman was a guest of honour at an athletics meet.
I took Ganesan to the good minister during tea break and here is what he told the lad: “My boy, at the end of the day, results in sports cannot compensate for education results. You have to get the required results to gain entry.”
After the dejected Ganesan left, I asked Dr Sulaiman why he had talked differently in the interview.
He simply replied: “Yeah, but we cannot compromise on grades required for entries.”
But Ganesan, determined to pursue his studies, called me a few months later to say he had got into the university. When I asked him how, he said he had gone to Penang for the national schools meet where Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the then Education Minister, was the guest of honour. He said he approached Abdullah and pleaded his case. Abdullah, after seeing both his academic and sports certificates, told him to go back to Kuala Lumpur and wait for a letter.
A few days later, Ganesan received a letter from Universiti Pertanian asking him to come for an interview. The lad eventually gained entry and graduated a few years later. He is now a successful businessman.
This story brings us to this question: How many talented athletes have been denied the opportunity to further their studies because they concentrated on their performance on the track than in the classroom?
After 30 years, nothing much has changed as I came across another case where a budding middle-distance runner, both of whose parents are celebrated national athletes, was denied entry into pre-university.
This athlete had dropped out of an excellence school in the city because he was homesick and lonely. Doesn’t the athlete deserve a second chance, especially having done well in the national athletics meet and, above all, possessing the genes of sports personalities? We have bureaucracy to thank for this state of affairs.
The national teams of the 1960s to 1980s were truly Malaysian in nature, comprising the best players available.
Malaysia is in a wonderful position of being able to pick from so many races, each with their own strengths, unlike South Korea, Japan and China, which have only one race to depend on. When combined, these Malaysians would definitely make a world class team.
So, let’s start playing it fair from the word go and maybe Malaysia will be able to attain far better results than it does 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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