Monday, February 9, 2015

Future lies in rural Malaysia

IT is going to be rare for sports talents to surface in our cities and even if they did, it will be minuscule.


The list of reasons is inexhaustible, but here are some; the loss of fields to property developers, schools without fields or small ones — no thanks to expansion, the disappearance of clubs that used to promote sports, the lack of dedicated coaches, youth who prefer air-conditioned comfort to the outdoors, the lack of security, parents preferring their children to concentrate on studies and so forth.

Yes, we have sports schools and dedicated development programmes, but these are for select groups only.

What has happened to the good old days when every school-going child was involved in sports, starting with inter-class and inter-house tournaments before the better athletes represented the school, got selected to play for the state at national championships and going on to don national colours at age-group tournaments?

These days, even district level tournaments are reduced to a one or two-day carnival and there are no inter-class tournaments because of the lack of fields in schools or the existing ones being in deplorable condition.

Chances are senior officers and maybe even the minister may get all riled up about these comments, but it is a fact and if they take trouble to go down to the grounds or get statistics on how many schools are without playing fields or have terrible ones, they would be alarmed.

The Education Ministry may claim it has the 1Student 1Sport programme in place, excellent sports schools and state and national school sports meets. But the majority of students do not benefit from these programmes or the duration is too short for talents to be nurtured.

It is all about records these days. For example, some 4.13 million students from 9,980 primary and secondary schools nationwide joined a simultaneous run one morning and tion of school students in a run.

The schools are ready-made centres for sports and until and when they are utilised with sports given priority and teachers trained to handle the various sports, sports is going to continue falling behind.

Top coaches and ex-internationals should be involved in schools as coach educators or even directly.

At a dinner last Friday organised by the Royal Klang Club in honour of former hockey international and coach C. Paramalingam, who recently turned 80 and was inducted into the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame on Dec 13, the conversation was all about Malaysian sporting woes.

Everything boiled down to the lack of playing fields and schools that are no longer the nursery for sports development.

Klang boy Tan Sri Krishnan Tan — president of the Cobra rugby club from 1995-2009, executive deputy chairman of IJM Corp Bhd and independent non-executive director of Malaysia Airlines — spoke passionately about the lack of development at schools.

Krishnan, who was instrumental in developing and giving Cobra a sting, was spot on when he said it is still rural schools that supplied athletes these days.

“These rural schools still have their fields and dedicated teachers and sports still play a key role in small towns where there is minimum distraction,” he said.

Krishnan was spotted and trained by Paramalingam. He went on to play for the Selangor combined schools hockey team but gave up the game when he entered Universiti Malaya to concentrate on his first love, rugby.

“Those days, the elite schools dominated rugby and other sports, but nowadays the talents are in rural schools.”

Krishnan also touched on the dwindling school fields and public fields in general.

“The Chetty Padang in Klang was a nursery for not only hockey but also basketball, football and cricket. But today, hockey has moved to artificial surface in Pandamaran while the field is hardly used as interest in sports has dwindled too.”

The famous Chetty Padang in Klang which produced top sportsmen now in a sad state
Many other fields similarly produced sportsmen and women, like the ones in Brickfields, Hot Springs (Setapak), Datuk Keramat (Penang), the Ipoh Padang and Javanese Road Padang, ACS field and the town Padang in Teluk Intan. At the same time, fields in many other towns that were sports hubs have disappeared in the name of development or due to neglect or youth shunning outdoor activities.

With rapid development in the country, more and more towns are going to lose their fields. Just last week, I drove to Kuala Kubu Baru (KKB) after a long time. While KKB was a refreshing sight with two stadiums and other sporting facilities, the town of Rawang was a shock.

It is congested almost all the time, has become a concrete jungle and its greenery has disappeared. It is only a matter of time before many more small towns cave in to development and sports take a backseat.

KKB, which was a haven for sports training, is underutilised. It is sad because it is just an hour’s drive from the city and has tremendous potential to be turned into a sports hub.

It is hoped whatever facilities in rural areas that are still intact are used to the maximum to continue supplying the nation with much-needed sports talent.

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