Q&A with Datuk Sieh Kok Chi (two part series)
Olympic Council of Malaysia Incumbent secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, who has been at the helm since 1992 in a two-part question and answer interview with Mailsports TONY MARIADASS speaks with no holds barred on the current situation leading up to the Annual General meeting next month.
The 75 year-old former engineer at Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) and former national water polo star competed in the SEAP Games in 1965 in Kuala Lumpur, 1967 (Bangkok) and 1969 in Rangoon, Burma and won silver medals in all three.
The former student of Victoria Institution and the first generation to the of Universiti Malaya (UM) product competed in Asian Games in 1970, the last tournament before retiring at the age of 32 years.
He then the secretary Selangor Amateur Swimming Association from 1971 to 1974 before becoming secretary of the Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia (ASUM) in 1975 to 1982.
After that, Kok Chi spent the past 10 years 'working' on a voluntary basis at the Olympic Council of Malaysia with a lot of help to do the work with OCM secretary at the time, Thong Poh Nyen.
In 1992, Kok Chi was elected to fill the seat secretary of OCM, replacing Poh Nyen.
Kok Chi retired as a civil servant in 1990 with his last position as Director of Coastal Engineering.
Mailsport: The upcoming OCM elections is seen as one which will see a keen battle for posts as opposed to the previous elections which have been regarded as tame. What are your views?
Datuk Sieh Kok Chi: The last couple of elections of OCM office bearers have been keen too. The coming one is keener as the few individuals who failed to have their ‘personal agenda’ fulfilled are going all out to oust office bearers who have spent years building up OCM to where it is today. These individuals have no track record of successful developing sport or with any national sports.
MS: Is there a conflict within OCM which has resulted for such a heated election?
DSKC: The conflict came into being with a few individuals trying to take over the OCM by proposing unsound and unjustified programmes to be outsourced to private companies without any detail evaluation. These companies who were selected themselves have no proven track records and experience in sports development.
In addition these individuals are not prepared to know more and understand the work culture of OCM and its main roles and responsibilities. They failed to see the structure of OCM and wanted to make changes for their own agenda, without knowing much about the background and how OCM should work for the development of the NSAs.
MS: Is it true that there are persons in the current OCM line-up trying to oust you? What is your stand on this?
DSKC: Yes, this is true. My stand is that there is really no necessity to oust me, because I am not stopping or obstructing anyone who wishes to contribute to OCM from doing so. In addition, I am not holding a post that I ousted someone. I became the honorary secretary of OCM only after my predecessor, the late Mr. Thong Poh Nyen, decided to retire and requested me to stand for election to succeed him. I am in fact an asset to OCM, as I do not draw a single sen from OCM, while my actual contributions have immense value and benefits to OCM, the National Sports Associations and to Malaysia.
I remember very clearly the days when OCM was known as a ‘Post Office’, just waiting for funds from the government, before any teams could be sent to participate in the various Games. Today, the situation has changed and OCM advances all the expenses to participate in Games and is only reimbursed by the government after the Games have ended. Should we not be proud that OCM which is now financially stable and strong? All this took over 30 years of care and hard work to build, not for me but for future generations of Malaysian athletes.
Maybe the office bearers who are trying to oust me see me as a threat to their ‘self-interest’ in OCM as the coffer is now standing with millions of ringgit. I dare to speak the truth and be honest and direct. Those who stand corrected are not happy.
MS: Why has such animosity come about in an organisation which is regarded as the supreme body of sports in the country and supposed to be leaders for the sports associations?
DSKC: The only reason I can think of is that these people are envious of me because they cannot measure to my contributions to OCM, the National Sports Associations and to Malaysia. What they do not realise is that what I do is not at the expense of anyone. In fact I am a team player and I share whatever benefits with my colleagues. I work hard genuinely for the progress of sports for the NSAs and for those sports leaders who know me, know that I am always there for them. I am a ‘doer’ and not a ‘talker’. When I can do, I will do. When I cannot do, I will not do. I do not say do and do not do or ask others to do.
MS: Is there line-up already in place for the coming elections?
DSKC: As far as I am concerned, there is no necessity for a so-called line-up. The truth will prevail and the members can see for themselves who can work and contribute and who can talk but cannot work and contribute anything. We welcome people who really want to contribute and can work together for the progress of OCM and not continuous bicker over small things. It had been problematic with fault finders and nothing profitable coming out them.
MS: How do you see the future of OCM with this unhealthy trend of power craze among sports officials instead wanting to serve the sports?
DSKC: If this unhealthy trend were to continue and intensify, I can see the destruction of OCM. Generally in my opinion, people who are ‘power crazy’ cannot serve because they want to be served and be recognised as sports leaders, when no such recognition is necessary. When other generous and volunteering people work well, they are threatened and lies are spread, because they cannot reach that high level so they think of some negativity to put those people down.
The situation has deteriorated so bad that some people will try to attack me in anyway and every way. As my track record in sport is so good, that there is nothing for them to attack me, they have to spread lies that my former Department said that I perform my duty poorly as an engineer, when I was working there, 25 years ago. How desperate can some people be?
Datuk Sieh Kok Chi continues his answers and questions to Mailsports TONY MARIADASS in a no holds barred interview on the upcoming Olympic Council of Malaysia annual general meeting and elections next month.
MS: Do you think it is about time more ex-sportsmen and women come forward to offer their services to OCM?
DSKC: If they do come forward, do they stand a chance against the veteran sports officials, many who want to cling to their posts?
Of course it would be ideal if more ex-sportsmen and women come forward to serve OCM and their sports organisations. In fact OCM always have given priority to retired sportsmen and women to hold office in OCM and their respective NSAs. For the record, some of the ex-sportsmen and women are Datuk Dr. P. S. Nathan (World champion bowler and admistrator), Tan Sri Datuk Dr. M. Jegathesan (Olympian and Asian Games gold medallists), Tunku Tan Sri Imran ibni Almarhum Tuanku Ja’afar (National Squash player and cricketer), Datik Paduka Mumtaz Jaafar (athletics), Datuk Low Beng Choo (Netball, Softball) to name a few.
As for having a chance, the ex-sportsmen and women should first hold office at their clubs or state levels and then slowly move up. In my case, I served at club level in the 60s, then moved to state in 1971 and national swimming association from 1974 to 1982, before being elected to my present position in November 1992.
The accusation that office bearers are clinging on to their positions is not quite true. How can they cling on when they are elected. We must give credit to an association if they continue to re-elect their office bearers for a period of time. No one has really provided the true reason. Is it because they are good and productive or is it because they bought the votes? General statements like an office bearer clinging on are unfair. There have been quite a number of changes in some NSAs and frankly the improvements, if any, are difficult to be evaluated, let alone seen.
The main weakness in Malaysian sports is not because of office bearers over-staying. It is due to the weakness of the Malaysian sports structure. Much has been written and discussed but nothing has really been done to improve the sports structure. Datuk Seri Azman Ujang, former Editor-in-Chief of Bernama has presented a paper on “Is Malaysia a Successful Sporting Nation?” to OCM on 23rd November 2013, where he had identified some of the weaknesses and proposed some changes, such as strengthening the State Sports Associations, who are the hearts and souls of the National Sports Associations.
MS: Many have criticised you that you have overstayed in office? Do you think so? Do you think there is still more you can contribute and when do you think you will decide to call it quits?
DSKC: While some say that I have overstayed, there are many more who ask me to stay on to serve them. Of course I can still contribute and if I cannot do so, I shall be first to give up. Physically and mentally I am fit. I can still go trekking over 10 km today and present a high quality technical paper on sport the next day. I wonder whether my critics can do the same. I will not accept age as the only consideration in assessing the capabilities of a person. Intellectual and physical capabilities as well as productivity should also be considered.
The NSAs realise that my most valued contributions to OCM and Malaysian sports is my knowledge, experience and have the time to do work for OCM for free. I spent hours reading and evaluating reports, submitting comments, contributing ideas and checking on data and statistics and writing reports and papers. Thus my contribution to sport is not at the expense of anyone, but is really additional and complementary to what others are not doing.
Take for example the recent Singapore 28th SEA Games. I think I am one of the very few persons who read each and every one of the Technical Handbooks of the 36 sports and sent 10 pages of comments, pointing out some of the discrepancies and errors to the Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee.
In the selection of the Malaysian Contingent of the Singapore 28th SEA Games, I personally went through in detail the results and performances of the athletes of a large number of sports to ensure that there was fairness in the selection of the athletes. Frankly, I was taking a risk as some of my rivals would try to make the National Sports Associations (NSAs) angry with me by saying that I was interfering in their business. Fortunately, the NSAs have faith and trust in me because they knew that I was not doing it for myself but for the good of the Malaysian Contingent. Who would have done this thankless job? At the end of the day, for me, it was worth it as a few of the athletes who were selected after my detail study, won medals in Singapore.
For your information, I have been doing such work quietly for decades, as I have special interests on the athletes’ welfare and progress. You may recall how heavily involved I was with Nurul Huda Abdullah from 1983 to 1990, when she won a total of 23 gold medals in the 1985, 1987 and 1989 SEA Games. There are many more such success stories, which will take too much time to record.
My only motivation is to share my knowledge, experience and time with fellow Malaysians, so that Malaysian sports can move to the next level. I have and am not depriving or obstructing any Malaysian, young or senior from contributing their time and efforts to improving Malaysian sports. Many state and national sports organisations are crying out for assistance and contributions. They are suffering from lack of capacity and resources, why not volunteer to assist and help them. There are so many empty seats around, why must they push me out of the seat I am on, when I am prepared to share with everyone.
MS: Your last words on the coming elections.
DSKC: The election of who can and will best serve the members, the National Sports Associations (NSAs), the athletes and Malaysian sports, rests within the powers of the 35 NSAs, who are the Ordinary Members of OCM. It is not a popularity contest but one based on the track record, experience, knowledge, commitment, dedication, integrity, etc.
OCM is passing through a very difficult and challenging phase. I am not exaggerating that whether OCM is going to become stronger or be slowly destroyed will depend on who the members are going to elect to serve them this August. Do they want office bearers to work for and to serve them or do they want office bearers who claim to be the NSAs’ ‘bosses’ and that attending meetings overseas is the most important duty for them.
Often, success brings instability and misunderstanding. The 35 Ordinary members of OCM must ensure that they elect the right office bearers to serve them and to contribute to the development of OCM, the NSAs and sports. Not so much supporting those who promise the sky just to get the vote and after getting the vote, claim that they are OCM and have the right to do anything they want.
MS: Thank you very much Datuk for your honest views on the current situation and all the best for the coming elections.