Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sports for all?


Level Field

(H) Sports for all?

As long as sports in this country is administered by people who know nothing about it and dedicated sports teachers are a rarity, there is unlikely to be light at the end of the tunnel no matter how much money is pumped into the arena.
I had written about this a decade ago and nothing seems to have changed as we continue to struggle to come up with a winning combination to alleviate the situation. 
In any other professional field, be it law, accountancy, medical, education, engineering or business, to name but a few, the associations are managed by the professionals themselves. Only in sports do we have politicians, businessmen, royalty and retired government servants heading the various associations.
These associations argue that they need people with influence and who can raise funds for the sports bodies. In that case, just make them the patrons and let the associations be managed by knowledgeable sportsmen and women.
More often than not, these officials do not have a clue about the sports whose associations they helm - some of them even head a few associations. Yet, they call the shots or listen to their advisers who may have vested interests. Thus, the sport suffers.
Some of the officials hold key positions in government agencies and hold equally important positions in several sports associations. How they divide their time equally to be actively involved in several associations besides having to attend to their own portfolios is indeed a puzzle. And is there no conflict of interest?
Some of the sports associations are saved by the presence of secretaries who have a sports background and can thus guide their presidents or top officials. But there are too few of them.
Ideally, former sportsmen and women should head their associations but in this country, that would mean changing a deeply entrenched culture. Sports is for all and maybe that is why everyone wants to helm the associations!
Many associations are set in their ways and although sports is getting more professional in terms of management, ours are still dragging their feet.
Just take football in Malaysia. After the game went semi-professional in 1989 and professional in 1994, we still have associations that have not got a licence to operate as a professional team; some do not even have venues for their new season.
Money is not a problem for these teams but at the end of the season, they are in debt, don’t pay their players their wages, terminate contracts and get into trouble, and the list goes on.
Only a handful of national bodies, which are led by former sportsmen, are well managed and produce results.
Associations that come to mind are the Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Association (headed by Datuk Dr P.S. Nathan), Malaysian Cricket Association (Mahinda Vallipuram), Malaysian Malays Cricket Association (Tan Sri Ahmad Sarji), Malaysia Shooting Association (Ally Ong), Malaysian Softball Association (See Kok Wooi) and Malaysian Bodybuilding Association (Datuk Gan Boon Leong). Certainly, these are in a class of their own.
Coming to school teachers who produced many of our top athletes, the sad truth is that they have no replacements. These days, few teachers want to spend their afternoons and evenings, weekends and school holidays training athletes in various sports.
In the good old days, the sports teachers would spend their own money on the students despite their meagre salary, buying them food, drinks and sometimes even attire and equipment. They would even pick up the students from their homes for training or competition.
I personally experienced the dedication of our football master, Mr Kirubakaran Rokk in 1974. He assembled our team a year earlier for the Under-18 competition in 1975.
We trained the whole year round, including during the December school holidays. That December, Master Kiru, as we affectionately called him, asked for RM10 from us. This was big money then and while some of us were lucky that our parents gave us the money, others had to do odd jobs in school to raise the money.
At the beginning of the new year, though, the team got a surprise when the then brother director, the late Brother Joseph Yeoh, called us up during morning assembly. Master Kiru then handed him a set of white tracksuits with green stripes on the sleeves and the St John’s crest sewn on to give out to the team. The good teacher had raised the money for the tracksuits.
We tearfully walked up to receive the tracksuits and vowed that we would do Master Kiru proud.
We went on to win the Datuk Keramat district title and won the Selangor Schools title after almost a decade.
There were many like Master Kiru then, down the length and breadth of the country - Vincent Fernandez, Bernard Khoo, Philip Adolpfus, Mui Fatt Chai (all deceased), Gerard Rozells, Ahmad Shafie, Lionel Rajamoney, Michael Perry, Rennie Martin, A. Tripadi, S. Sivaprgasam, Tan Choo Mong, T. Thiruselvam, Brian Foennader, N. Nadaraja, Louis Rodriques, Malek Khiew, Teng Cheng Leong, Pritam Singh, Sandhu, Gurdial Singh, B. Rajakulasingham, Indran, Jimi Chai and R. Ratnasingam to name a few, all from the 1970s.
From the 1980s, we have the likes of K. Sukumaran, P. Gansesmoorthy, C. Nadarajan, Md Yazid Yahaya. Khoo Boon Ket, K. Segeran Nair, S. Sasitheran, S. Arunandy and many more.
But the list kept getting shorter as the years passed. Today, such dedicated sports teachers are in very short supply or maybe even non-existent.
In the meantime, sports in this country continues to languish in mediocrity.

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: @tmariadass​​

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