The legendary South African activist and politician, Nelson Mandela, said: “Sports can be a diversion. Sports can be a hobby. And, for a fortunate few, sports can change the world.”
Mandela used a combination of methods to dismantle South Africa's system of institutionalised racism and sports was high on his list. He realised the transformative and unifying power of sports and used that power to make changes that protests and diplomacy could not.
In its amateur state, sports is pure and honest but when it becomes professional, bringing in big bucks through sponsorships, it can become a monster.
As more money pours into sports, greed sets in and true sportsmanship goes out the window.
When officials see the kind of money available in sports and the perks associated with a rich association, the desire to be a part and parcel of the sports fraternity at all cost increases tremendously. And in comes bribery to lure the voters.
Big money in sports has seen another menace rear its ugly head – match fixing. It is no secret that players, referees, coaches, team officials and administrators are involved.
Although the crackdown on bribery is ongoing, it is far from being eradicated.
Indeed, Fifa’s current situation, where many key personnel are being investigated by the FBI and Swiss authorities, has brought the beautiful game to its knees.
Many other sports associations have similar problems and it is question of how deep bribery is in them.
Of course, there are sports that are clean but the growing corruption in the community is alarming.
At home, we have similar situations, from the lowest level of sports to the highest, from the kampung bodies to the national associations. The only difference is the extent of the disease.
In-fighting among the officials to hold on to their positions in the associations, back-biting, mud-slinging to gain the edge, promising rewards for votes, pre-determined line-ups and complete disregard for democracy are all ingredients of Malaysian sports. Such infliction is undermining the true potential of our sportsmen and women.
Almost everyone sees sports as a money-making venture these days, so much so that dedication and passion have taken a backseat. The few that really care are, more often than not, marginalised and ejected from the system in no time.
The welfare of the athletes and the progress of the respective sports are the last things on the minds of the officials as they pursue their own agendas.
Coming back to the crisis at Fifa, former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general secretary Datuk Peter Velappan feels the exco members should resign, following in the footsteps of the governing body’s president Sepp Blatter.
Speaking at length to members of the media on Wednesday, he voiced his thoughts and views on how Fifa should go forward. It was indeed a pity that the leaders and officials of our sports associations were not there to hear what he had to say.
His call for football and sports in general to be thoroughly cleansed is timely, and something Malaysian sports officials should pay heed to.
There is an urgent need for a total revamp, from head to toe. But can it be done here?
Even at the Olympic Council of Malaysia – the highest governor of sports in the country – there is so much of bitterness and pettiness.
But something has to be done to save Malaysian sports and the sooner it happens, the better.
Sports Commissioner Datuk Zaiton Othman said recently that her office was going to play a bigger role in screening potential candidates for positions in sports association and only with the endorsement of her office can these candidates stand for election in their respective associations.
Clearly, this ruling has to be officially implemented as quickly as possible. In the meantime, the onus is on our present sports officials to take a hard look at themselves and determine if they are fit to hold their positions.
Will anything change? Your guess is as good as mine.
In the name of sports, do the honourable thing to make it clean and pure again.