Friday, June 17, 2016

Let's change mindsets


To be or not to be?

The decision to let our young athletes compete in the IAAF World U20 championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, from July 19 to 24, before they return to compete in the Malaysia Games (Sukma) in Kuching from July 26 to 29, is highly commendable.
Earlier suggestions to not participate in the world junior championship because of Sukma were put to rest after National Sports Council (NSC) director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail met the athletes and coaches concerned, including MAU coaching chairman Zainal Abas and sprinters coach Mohd Poad Md Kassim, officials of the state sports councils and others, to get their views on the matter. 
A final meeting on Tuesday afternoon between NSC and the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) sealed the decision that the athletes should compete in both the world junior championship and Sukma.
Among the athletes who have qualified on merit for the world championship are the winners of the Asian Junior championship in Ho Chi Minh earlier this month, namely Khairul Hafiz Jantan (100m), R. Kirthana (triple jump) and Mohd Rizzua Haizad (triple jump).
Meanwhile, sprinter Badrul Hisyam Abdul Manap booked his ticket after clocking 10.53s at the 2015 UniMAP Open Athletics Championships, surpassing the 10.55s qualifying mark set by IAAF. 
Khairul, 17, after clocking a personal best of 10.30s in the earlier rounds in Vietnam, won the final in 10.36s, upsetting Japan's Ippei Takeda (10.41s) and Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Abkar Mohammed (10.45s). The latter had arrived in Vietnam as the year's quickest U20 sprinter in the world, having clocked 10.04s. Malaysia's Badrul Hisyam, whose best record is 10.34s, came in fifth with 10.54s.
Khairul’s achievement gave the country its first Asian Junior gold medal in the men's category in the 30-year history of the U20 event. The contingent’s three golds, three silvers and a bronze, to finish fourth among 18 countries, have given Malaysian athletics much hope for a brighter future.
Khairul also bagged a silver in the 200m with 21.15s and was a member of the 4x100m quartet, who took silver with 39.91s. The other members of the relay team were Badrul Hisyam, Asnawi Hashim and Muhd Haiqal Hanafi.
That we even thought of skipping the world junior championship for a national junior event is unforgivable and only underlines the short-sightedness of some athletes and officials.
Though common sense prevailed in the end, the issue should not have come up in the first place, especially since the governing body and stakeholders like the Ministry of Youth and Sports have clear policies on such things.
The complications arose because the states put their interests before the nation's.
Badrul and Khairul, who are from the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School, represent Malacca while Kirtana and Rizau of the Bukit Jalil Sports School, represent Perak and Sarawak respectively.
These athletes probably found themselves in a dilemma because apart from their sense of loyalty to their home-state, it is learnt that they have been paid a Sukma monthly allowance for almost a year now.
The lure of cash incentives for winning gold medals at Sukma and other perks must have blinded these young athletes as well.
The fact that Khairul told the media that he was skipping the world youth championship because of Sukma, points to poor management of the athlete and sounds like someone put him up to it. Khairul must surely have known Zainal's views that both he and Badrul forget about Sukma and focus on the world junior championship?
And his reason that he wanted to set a new national record in front of Malaysian fans and his parents does not hold water. What better competition, field and status to set a new national record than a world championship?
Such actions do not speak well of Khairul’s character but then he is young and needs to be guided by his coaches and administrators.
We certainly do not need prima donnas when they are just blooming.
Pictures of the athletes holding branded spikes to their face when posing for the media after victory only goes to show the hold that sponsorship and money already has on them.
It is all right to secure sponsorships but these athletes must not become blinded by monetary rewards and lose track of their ultimate goal -- to excel in their sport and reach the highest level of competition possible.
We have seen many budding athletes fall by the wayside because of greed, wanting to be in the spotlight and poor guidance.
This current controversy would not have arisen if everything had been laid down clearly from the start and the athletes had been told to follow the guidelines strictly.
We have a good crop of young athletes, which augurs well for the future of athletics. But petty issues and unnecessary publicity threaten to muddy the waters.
Hopefully, none of the said athletes complain that they are tired and suffering from jet-lag at the thought of having to compete in back-to-back competitions. It would be a small sacrifice but a huge leap forward in their athletic career.
Besides, they will probably benefit from having trained in Europe prior to the world junior meet, and with a sports science team with them, it could well be the launchpad for them to reach for the stars.
Let us think big, make the right, not popular, decisions and aim to be a world class sporting nation. Otherwise, we are destined to be just jaguh kampung.

TONY 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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