Saturday, April 29, 2006

Goodbye Malay Mail, and thank you! (28/04/2006 - The Malay Mail)

Publication : MM
Date : 28/04/2006
Headline : Goodbye Malay Mail, and thank you!

AFTER 29 years of working for NSTP, it is with mixed feelings that I end
my ties with The Malay Mail.
Having spent most of my adult life at The Malay Mail, this place had
been a second home.
It was my late uncle John Pillai who introduced me to the newspaper
industry back in 1977, when I was doing my Higher School Certificate
(HSC). He invited me to join the New Straits Times Press as a temporary
library clerk.
My uncle was then the education writer for NST, and also the chairman
of the NSTP Sports Club. As I had played soccer for my alma mater (St
John's Institution), which won the Selangor Schools title in 1975, he
encouraged me to play for the NSTP team in the Inter-Company Games
against Singapore Straits Times.
Soccer being my first love, I jumped at the opportunity and the rest is
history. But I did not neglect my studies and completed my HSC as a
further education class student - going for classes after work!
Not long after joining the NST library, I got hooked on sports writing,
which was not surprising really. I was in charge of the sports section in
the library, which meant constant interaction with the sportswriters of
those years - the late Mansoor Rahman, Syed Nazri, Tony Francis, Ian
Pereira, George Das, R. Velu, R. Nadeswaran, Terence Netto, Fauzi Omar,
James Ritchie, Cheryl Dorall, P'ng Hong Kwang, S.C. Sekaran, Gabriel Lim
and Peter Martinez.
By 1979, I was already stringing for The Malay Mail and two years
later, was transferred to the paper full-time.
I must express my gratitude to Terence, for encouraging me to give
sports journalism a shot, to the late Francis Emmanuel (deputy sports
editor then), a legendary figure in the sports circle, and to Tony
Francis, the sports editor during my early years as a cub reporter. They
played a key role in my choosing sports journalism as a career.
Terence taught me how to cover football matches, while Francis and
Tony, who as editors were a reporter's nightmare, groomed me into what I
am today. Certainly, I learnt from the best.
I stuck to The Malay Mail, for better or for worse, rising from cub
reporter to sports editor.
And the secret of my staying power, although I was overlooked numerous
times for a pay increase or promotion? A passion for sports, particularly
Malaysian sports.
I even decided to practise what I preached by coaching and managing the
NST soccer team (later known as the Malay Mail FC) for 15 years.
It was the then CEO of NSTP, Datuk Nik Ibrahim Kamil (above), who asked
me to manage the team. Later, with the support of previous Malay Mail
editors, Datuk Fauzi Omar and Ahirudin Attan, this KL League soccer team
rose to be the first Klang Valley club side to play in the Premier League
of the professional M-League for three seasons from 2000.
Still, in all those years of excitement and frustration, I never
imagined that I would leave the paper before my retirement.
There had been other voluntary separation schemes at NSTP but it never
occurred to me to leave Malay Mail. Even with the most recent one, it was
only on the last day of exercising the option that I submitted my
Having been passionate about Malaysian sports all my life, I could not
come to terms with the fact that local sports, especially at schools
level, the future of the nation, was not going to be given priority in
the new-look Malay Mail.
I would have been a hypocrite to stay on and not do what I love the
most - support local sports.
Sports journalism has taken me to places other people might only dream
about, and introduced me to personalities so interesting and amazing, all
of which are experiences I treasure and which, I believe, have built my
character over the years.
Truly, in whatever way one is involved in sports - be it as an athlete,
a coach, an official, an administrator, a volunteer, a fan or a
sportswriter - there are great values to be learnt from it.
Sports is certainly an integral part of nation building.
I have loved every second of my association with sports, and have no
Thankfully, my son Alwin, who is doing his A-levels, is a sports lover,
having "covered" soccer matches with me from the tender age of four. I
hope he will touch base with Malaysian sports one day in his own way and
make a difference.
Yes, the time has come for me to move on, but rest assured that I am
not going too far from sports.
I am indeed honoured and grateful that the new editor of The Malay
Mail, M. Zul, has asked me to continue with this column. The column will
ensure I don't become just a memory - in journalism, you are only as
good as your last byline.
However, whether I continue with the column, is left to seen.
I am going to miss the old Malay Mail, but I wish everyone who is
staying on to launch the new newspaper the very best.
The Malay Mail turns 110 this year and it should live on for another
100 years or more.
If I had my way, The Malay Mail would revert to being an afternoon
paper, which was its forte. But all things said and done, I believe the
spirit of The Malay Mail will live on.
I take this opportunity to thank all The Malay Mail readers for their
support and criticisms, but above all for believing in its sports section.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Failure, but where do we go from here? (21/04/2006 - The Malay Mail)

Publication : MM
Date : 21/04/2006
Headline : Failure, but where do we go from here?

THE best planned and managed programme can go astray.
The national hockey team's debacle in Changzhou, China, in the World
Cup qualifiers where they are now consigned to the 9th-12 play-offs, is
certainly one of those programmes which have gone awry.
There was so much hope in the team, especially after their Melbourne
Commonwealth Games bronze medal effort four weeks ago.
The opening 1-0 defeat to Japan in the opening match did a lot of harm.
In terms of preparation - training, friendly matches and competition -
everything was taken care of.
The team of 18 players also had 19 officials to take care of them -
team manager Nur Azmi Ahmad, his assistant Tai Beng Hai, coach Wallace
Tan, his assistant Perak Abu, a doctor, two psychologists (one local and
one foreign), a physiotherapist, a fitness trainer, two masseurs, a
dietician, two cooks, a video cameraman - who were directly involved with
the team while Lim Chiow Chuan (AsiaComm project manager), Murali Menon
(advisor to the Cabinet Committee on Sports), Paul Lissek (development
technical director) and Sarjit Singh (National Juniors coach) were also
So where did we go wrong?
Some blamed the chilly weather, players falling sick or injured, the
pressure to qualify, not being able to peak for two tournaments in a
short spell, too many cooks spoiling the soup, under-estimating their
opponents, lack of capable substitutes and so on.
Everyone will have a reason but the bigger question is, what happens
after this? What we need is constructive criticisms.
This scribe has his own views but talked to coaches of past national
teams from different eras to come up with a more balanced view.
Among the coaches I spoke to were Datuk R. Yogeswaran (MHF coaching
chairman and former national player in the 1960s and coach), C.
Paramalingam (former national centre-forward in the 1960s and coach), Sri
Shanmuganathan (skipper of the 1975 World Cup semi-finalist national team
and former coach) and Stephen Van Huizen (former national player in the
1980s and 1990s and coach).
Each had his view but all agreed that what happens after this will
decide the future of Malaysian hockey.
Losing matches, especially narrow loses is part and parcel of the game,
but being fried by the French who inflicted a 4-1 defeat, is embarrassing.
It was obvious attention was not paid to France, who finished eighth in
the Junior World Cup in Hobart in 2001. Malaysia finished 12th.
Inviting the French to play friendly matches recently did more good for
But utmost on the minds of all, was the December Doha Asian Games,
where the champion will qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
Will the team be able to recover from this debacle? Is there going to a
Are we going to allow our emotions to rule or make rational and
probably unpopular decision to make things right?
Now is the time for the best hockey brains in Malaysia to come together.
For that to happen, the team have to be oozing with character - from
the team manager and coaches to players.
There is without doubt the present team needs further fine tuning in
many areas - starting from the basics.
We also have to ask whether our local competition is good enough for
our national players to excel in international competitions.
It is a common belief that the strength of the local competition will
reflect the performance of the national team in international
It would be interesting to see what Wallace has to say in his final
Emphasis must be paid to the report and not just push into a cabinets.
Hockey is one of the eight core sports the Government is giving full
support and thisn is why they have to rise from this failure!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

NSAs must now focus on the grassroots (14/04/2006 -The Malay Mail)

Publication: MM
Date : 14/04/2006
Headline : NSAs must now focus on the grassroots

NATIONAL Sports Associations (NSAs) have lots more to do, especially in
developing their respective sports at grassroots level, now that the
Government have come out in full support of sports by funding the
training of elite athletes.
This was the strong stand taken by Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM)
president, Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja'afar, when he met editors from
the electronic and print media at a luncheon yesterday.
And Tunku Imran is correct because the Government - through the
Ministry of Sports and the National Sports Council - have virtually
funded the cost of training elite athletes, especially for the eight core
Thus, this leaves the NSAs with more time, manpower and also money to
channel their energy into developing the basics of their respective
In recent years, there is no denying that most NSAs have neglected
grassroots development and just depended on the schools to carry out that
And sadly, the schools alone cannot do the job for these NSAs because
they have far too many sports to handle in a calendar year. And each
sport will be lucky if it can get two to three months of attention in a
Tunku Imran stressed it is imperative the respective NSAs give
immediate attention to the matter because their athletes in the elite
squad will not be there forever. Replacements must be found, and
programmes must be in place churning out new talent.
"Without doubt, the monetary burden to train elite athletes has been
taken off the NSAs' shoulders. As such, they should channel their
attention towards grooming rising stars, finding new talents and
promoting their respective sports so that they would have a wider base
for selection," said Tunku Imran.
He, however, added that at the end of the day, the NSAs are the ones
who should bear the responsibility of success or failure of their
athletes, because they are the ones who spotted, groomed and nurtured
them into championship material.
The NSC can provide all the training, competition exposure and
guidance, but they are actually working on athletes provided by the NSAs
from the start.
If NSAs provide half-baked athletes or who do not have the potential to
reach international standards, then the NSC cannot be blamed for not
reaching the targets.
In a nutshell, it just means that although there is tremendous support
of sports by the Government, NSAs still have a key role to play in the
development of sports.
NSAs cannot be waiting for hand-outs and surrender the responsibility
of moulding champions to the NSC.
NSC are the supporting body to NSAs, and it pointless blaming NSC each
time there is a failure, because they should actually be blaming
Take the FA of Malaysia (FAM) for instance. They were regarded as one
of the richest associations not so long ago, but ever since the
withdrawal of Dunhill as their main sponsors, they have fallen on hard
Maybe it is a blessing in disguise that Dunhill pulled out as sponsors
because FAM were, in a way, getting too comfortable and complacent.
But the changed scenario has seen FAM being made to work hard to bring
in new sponsors. And since none of these sponsors are in the mould of
Dunhill, they have to look for multi-sponsorship.
And FAM have to oblige all their sponsors by giving them their money's
worth in terms of exposure and mileage.
They can no longer sit back and hope the money will drop on their laps.
And it was under these circumstances that FAM have secured yet another
new partner in AirAsia.
And when AirAsia Group chief executive officer, Datuk Tony Fernandes,
revealed at the luncheon how the sponsorship came about, it spoke of the
many associations who just sit around and hoping sponsors will come to
Last November, Fernandes was invited by FAM independent member Khairy
Jamaluddin to speak at the marketing aspect of the FIFA Com-Unity
Workshop, organised by FAM.
He was bombarded with questions on why AirAsia were linked to
Manchester United, but could not support local soccer.
His answer was simple: "No one approached us."
That could have prompted FAM secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim
Saad to get cracking, resulting in the sponsorship deal.
This just goes to show how many associations take things for granted
and just sit around waiting for things to happen, when they themselves
can set things in motion.
And judging by Fernandes' enthusiasm yesterday and based on what he has
done with AirAsia with his deputy CEO Kamarudin Meranun when they started
off with just two planes, 4 1/2 years ago, FAM can expect to soar to
greater heights.
As Fernandes himself puts it; "There is nothing wrong to dream, as long
as one works hard to make it a reality."

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Short-term goals that fell short of target (07/04/2006 - The Malay Mail)

Publication : MM
Date : 07/04/2006
Headline : Short-term goals that fell short of target

ANOTHER post-mortem, after another outing in the sports arena, all sorts
of excuses and reasons for falling short, and promises to do better in
coming events.
What's new? It has been happening over and over of late, that it has
become like a recurring bad dream.
But what is the real issue here?
Basically, it is a case of having too big ambitions over too short a
And Malaysian sports authorities are often the guilty ones, with these
short-term goals.
Time and again, after every performance that came short of
expectations, the powers-to-be will come up with new programmes.
Nothing wrong with new programmes to make amends for previous ones
which did not live up to the mark, or fell short.
But the problem arises when these are only short-term programmes.
Let's back-track a little to get a clearer picture.
Immediately after the Athens Olympics debacle when the Malaysian
contingent returned empty-handed two years ago, we came up with the 2006
Gemilang programme and even declared that 10 golds and possibly more
would be achieved at the Doha Asian Games - better than the previous best
of seven golds at the 1966 Bangkok Asiad.
Then came along the AsiaCom project.
We hired experts, with many of them surprisingly coming from Australia.
Left out were proven personnel responsible for success in some sports.
Changes were made mid-stream.
We had the Melbourne Commonwealth Games as a testing ground for the
progress of the programmes, and again a 10-gold target was set.
Once again, we fell short, and we are back to the drawing board to find
out what went wrong, as we try to redeem ourselves eight months down the
line in Doha.
When are we going to learn that we cannot change the face and fate of
Malaysian sports with short-term programmes?
After each debacle, we are still dealing with the same athletes who
have failed and hope they would improve by leaps and bounds overnight.
They are going to compete against almost the same athletes they have
lost to, or could not even hold a candle to.
Let us not forget their opponents are only going to improve further,
and they have more catching up to do.
More often than not, we in Malaysia love to brag about our own
preparations, but do not take into account what the other countries are
doing for coming competitions.
We hardly check out our competitors' latest performances, or know what
we are up against.
We only become surprised when we meet them on the arena, pool or courts!
Yes, we do well at regional tournaments, like the SEA Games, but we
keep forgetting time and again, that they are the lowest level of sports.
In fact, if we cannot do well in the SEA Games, we have no business
spending millions of ringgit on sports.
But let us look at the bigger picture and have more realistic
Let us not be fooled time and time again by these foreign experts
telling us what our athletes can achieve, because they have to say nice
things and promise the world. Because if they do not, they will not have
a job!
It is not that our sports officials do not know of the difficult task
ahead, but it is just at times they refuse to accept it and hope a magic
wand will be waved and everything will look rosy for Malaysian sports.
It does not work that way.
We have to get back to the basics, and have long-term programmes and
stop setting gold medal targets just for the sake of setting them.
It is about time, we set long-term goals for five to 10 years, and work
towards them with a set of athletes who are focused, have the desire to
do well and bring honours to the nation through sacrifice, determination,
discipline, dedication, sweat, toil and even bleed, if needed.
Mind-sets of athletes have to be changed and tuned to what is required
to produce champions.
Of course, we have a few already in the mould, and these are the
athletes who will time and again bring honours to the nation.
But we should have a bigger pool of such athletes for all the money we
are spending on sports.
Again, it is not a revamp we are looking at Malaysian sports, but a
Since even higher standards are going to be set for the Doha Asian
Games than the Commonwealth Games, we better brace ourselves for another
disappointment. This is because it is going to take a miracle to see the
majority of our athletes who have not been doing well, to turn into
overnight champions!
Let us start looking at long-term plans, with realistic targets, and
also with sports that are capable of meeting international challenges,
and end our wishful thinking.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Educating athletes and officials (31/03/2006 - The Malay Mail)

Publication : MM
Date : 31/03/2006
Headline : Educating athletes and officials

THE character-building of athletes and officials' responsibilities both
play vital roles in shaping the end-products.
After repeatedly witnessing incidents over the years where athletes and
officials faltered due to a lack of these attributes, it is about time a
serious stand is taken on the matter to educate both parties.
As promised in last week's column, I would be talking about a personal
experience about trying to get an interview with England's Michael Owen
in 1997 in Johor Baru, which gave me an insight into educating sportsmen
and women about the real world.
Owen was here for the 1997 Youth World Cup and several local sports
journalists were trying to get an interview with him.
We had to make arrangements with the England team's communications and
media manager, a female.
The process itself irked us because we were not used to waiting for
interviews to be arranged, as we usually grabbed hold of our subjects and
asked the questions there and then.
But this was an England team we were talking about - even though they
were the junior side.
Anyway, it took two days before we got the interview and at the session
itself, we not only had Owen present, but also the communications and
media manager, the team manager, assistant coach and a team official.
The interview went well and Owen, although only 17 then, spoke with
maturity, and one question saw him answering in depth - a refreshing
change from our local lads who would come up with one-liners, such as
"the ball is round" or "it's God's will"!
Not to mention that Owen, who has been exposed to soccer since he was
six when he joined the Liverpool junior programme and had about 11 years
of experience despite only being only in his teens.
I was curious as to why there were so many officials present. Were they
there to gag him by telling him not to answer some questions?
No, Owen answered all questions and there was no intervention from any
of the officials during the 20-minute-long interview.
The communications and media manager later revealed it was all part of
Owen's training.
Yes, the officials were all there to see how Owen handled the Press,
and how he tackled the questions.
After that, it was back to another room for Owen, where the officials
reviewed his "performance", and offered him advice and suggestions.
"This is all part of building our players' character. All our players
go through this because we realise how important the media are to the
players and the game," said the official.
"We need the players to make a good impression, and be able to tackle
the media who will field all sorts of questions - be them easy,
difficult, sensitive or even provoking.
"This is all part of the education of a player in the game."
Is it little wonder that Owen, who became a full-fledged England player
soon after returning to his homeland, was able to handle the media there
despite his young age?
And the responsibilities the officials assumed in moulding Owen only
spoke volumes of their dedication and commitment in bringing the best out
of their athletes.
How many of our local officials take the trouble to prepare our young
athletes to face the media as they progress in their careers?
How can our local officials prepare our athletes when the former are
either "media-shy" or treat reporters like the plague!
Some officials are even known to tell athletes not to talk to the media!
But when the athletes do well, the officials will be the first to come
forward even before their achievers say their two sen's worth and have
pictures taken with them, shedding their crocodile tears or displaying
so-called affectionate hugs.
This is another area, where Malaysian sports lacks quality and it needs
to be addressed, if our athletes and officials are to venture out to
conquer the world.