Sunday, July 16, 2006

Pampered Lot? (2006- Malaysian Today)

Pampered Lot?

ARE our Malaysian athletes a pampered lot and who demand a great?

If present days are compared to yesteryears sportsmen and women, there is no doubt that the current athletes are indeed a pampered lot.

But the argument would be that times have changed and sport now plays an integral part of the society.

Agreed. But then should not the results in sports be better than yesterday years.

Outstanding achievements and rankings in the world of several sports were attained twenty thirty years ago, when facilities were at bare minimum, the assistance of top level and foreign coaches virtually missing, support and funding from government also minimum or non-existence, hardly any rewards offered for achievements and the benefit of overseas training stints being rare or nil.

Presently, with ultra modern facilities which are world-class, availability of top coaches both from locally and foreign, full support from the government including scholarships to further education, high rewards in terms of cash and material and not only regular overseas training stints, but being based overseas for long term periods and more recently even the setting up of a permanent training centre in London, athletes are still unable to produce the desired results and put Malaysia on higher grounds in the world arena.

Now we have to ask if the present day athletes are a lot pampered who have lost the drive for success, glory and honour and some are even branded as “spoilt-brats.”

There have been cases of athletes who had the benefit of overseas stints on a long term period together with education, but at the end hold bodies like the National Sports Council (NSC) and National Associations (NA) are ransom.

These athletes, either demand more from the NSC or NA every time while they are based overseas, or at the end of their stint of studies, do no want to return to Malaysia to repay the dues and knowledge they have gathered over the years.

Then, there are those who are recalled back to Malaysia to continue training on home soil, who refuse to return and threaten to quit the sports if they are forced to return.

There are others who prepared to return, provided they are given the same remunerations as they were when they were based overseas.

Of course, we also have home based athletes who are continuously asking for better remunerations, but have not produces results to equate the spending and returns.
The Government, through the Ministry of Sports and NSC, has continuously been trying to improve the status of athletes in the country, and presently there are great opportunities and is worthwhile for athletes, to make sports a career.

Even coaches have been recognised and athletes after their prime, can become coaches and earn a decent living.

Yet, Malaysia is still struggling to make a strong impact in many sports and in some sports where achievements are forthcoming, it is not on a consistent basis.

There is no doubt that NSC is taking a serious view on the matter, and unless the athletes can change their mind-set, work towards excellence with great passion, and be consistent, they could be up against some censures.

As much as the Government supports sports, there needs to be accountability too.

The Doha Asian Games in December, will be a yardstick to measure some amount of success especially from the elite athletes and after which, there is a strong indication that there is going to be stock taking.

The Government cannot be pouring in the money to sports without proper returns.

And the athletes have the onus to prove themselves and repay their dues.

Failing which, they could well be deciding their own fate.

It is not that the Government is going to stop funding if there are no results, but they could well be very selective and probably pay more emphasis on development with the hope of producing a new set of athletes with the right mindset towards sports.

Gone are the days of passion, pride and perfection.

To be fair to the athletes, there are athletes with the above qualities presently, but there out numbered by those who believe that sports owe them a living instead of earning it.

When we have athletes even at the Malaysia Games who hold States at a ransom where they offer their services to the one who pays them the highest, they have become mercenaries.

Even mercenaries can be forgiven, if they return with victory and honour, but when results are not forthcoming, they are only taking the taxpayers for a ride!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Rajagopal's Babes (2006 - Malaysian Today)

Rajagopal's Babes

THE National Under-20 soccer team is to come under the National Sports Council (NSC), as a long-term plan to build formidable national team.

Infact, a MoU between NSC and the FA of Malaysia has already been signed have already been signed early this month.

And on Tuesday, the Cabinet Committee for Sports headed by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Seri Tun Razak, further affirmed the status of the National Under-20 team when he instructed that the National Sports Council (NSC) immediately take charge of the team both on the financial aspect and training.

The Under-20 team coached by K. Rajagopal is seen as the hope for future of the sports.

However, there is more to than the eye meets in this delicate situation.

While the move to take charge of the National Under-20 is noble, where all assistance will be taken care of by the Government, but there are too many technicalities which are involved which will throw plan in disarray.

For starters, the FA of Malaysia affiliates (State FAs), who have players in the Under-20 who are contracted to them, will be up in arms, as they no longer can use the services of these players in the domestic league – immediately the Malaysia Cup competition.

Secondly, the Under-20 players who already have contracts with the State FAs will be reluctant to severe ties with their employers as they would definitely be getting more than what NSC will be paying them monthly.

Then, there is the issue of governance of the team because if NSC manages the team, FA of Malaysia could run foul of allowing Government interference, which FIFA, does not condone and will not recognise Malaysia football.

Of course there are ways to work around it with FA of Malaysia still being involved with the team, to keep everything above board.

Lastly, with the Asian Youth championship just around the corner in India, anything drastic changes mid-stream with a team which has been shaping up well, could prove disastrous.

However, while both FA of Malaysia and NSC having in principle agreed on the “marriage” in the best interest of soccer in the country, there is always a common path which can be taken.

In this context, both FA of Malaysia and NSC are expected to sit down and trash out the finer details so that this program is not derailed.

Without doubt the Government is serious about sports and thus their involvement.

The fact that a Sports Cabinet had been set up and chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Seri Tun Razak, himself, underlines the seriousness of the Government to see sports in general excel in the world arena.

At the Sports Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, several other decisions were also taken and the decision to introduce the National Coaching Scheme, was another step which takes Malaysian sports to another level.

Gone are the days when coaches were no recognized, or sports did not offer a career to athletes.

With the introduction of the Scheme, which was presented by the National Coaching Board, coaching can now become a career.

And coaches will also get the opportunity to upgrade themselves with knowledge and the more they gain, the better remunerations they will get.

And it is not just the fulltime coaches who benefit from this scheme, but also the many part-time coaches who do a lot of development work, but are more often than not recognised or remunerated.

With more qualified and satisfied coached in place, it is hoped that the overall standard of sports will rise at a fast level for the nation to attain success at the Asian and World level in the near future.

The elite training centre in Hertfordshire, near London, which is operational from yesterday (Thursday – June 22), is another milestone for Malaysian sports, where an opportunity has been created for Malaysian athletes to be based and train overseas where they will be exposed to high level training and competition.

Squash will be the first to utilise the facility and followed by the Under-20 team next in line.

Sports in the country have never had so good and if only the returns equate with the money spent, it will all be a dream come true for the nation.


Saturday, July 8, 2006

NSAs must step up (2006 - Malaysian Today)

NSAs must step up

ARE the National Sports Associations (NSAs) ready to play a bigger and more responsible role in the development of their respective sports?

This is the million-ringgit question the Minister of Youth and Sports, Datuk Azalina Othman Said, is posing to NSAs.

In fact, the same question was also posed to the Olympic Council of Malaysia 9OCM) as to whether they can be responsible for their affiliates (the NSAs) and monitor them to ensure that development work if done.

Although the initial reaction from OCM was that they did not have the resources to take on a huge task as that, but a follow up meeting by their Strategic Plan and Implementation Committee headed by OCM Deputy President, Datuk Dr. M Jegathesan has seen them give an undertaking to work in line of Datuk Azalina’s request.

A Malaysian Sports Summit is the first move by OCM to get all stakeholders to discuss, among others, the proposed re-structuring of the National Sports Council (NSC) and role of NSAs in development.

Other matters to be studied include the role of OCM and NSAs in relation to the proposed new NSC structure, to identify and eliminate areas of duplication between NSC and OCM and to identify and implement more important programmes between NSC and OCM

The Committee also agreed with the Azalina’s views that over the years, the NSC has been burdened with too many responsibilities, thereby reducing its effectiveness in running its core business, which is the training of national athletes to excel at world and Asian levels, with emphasis on the Olympic, Commonwealth, Asian and SEA Games.

In addition, the Committee has proposed to prepare a working paper to submit to Azalina for her information and consideration.

The paper will be a situational analysis of OCM, its existing role and responsibilities and its plans and strategies. In addition, OCM will carry out a rating exercise of its members, identifying their existing status and their potential to produce Olympic, Commonwealth and Asian Games champions.

The Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) who were the first of the eight core sports which Datuk Azalina visited, also gave a positive feedback with the deputy president Tunku Abdul Majid Sultan Iskandar giving an undertaking that he will be responsible for his affiliates to work hard at development and also to monitor them.

Soccer was the second sports the Minister visited to get feedback and their undertaking to be serious about taking over the responsibility of development of their sports in a big way.

With another positive feedback from FA of Malaysia, it is hoped that the remaining NSAs Azalina will be visiting, will also give a positive undertaking.

However, giving the undertaking is one thing and walking the talk is another.

Malaysian sports has indeed come a crossroad where it is at a junction where the future is at stake.

Over the years, more and more NSAs have neglected development work of their respective sports and the current state of Malaysian sports has a great deal to do with it.

The National Sports Council (NSC) has taken on the role of development that it has come to a point where it realises that it has taken on more than it can chew and elite athletes’ preparation has been compromised.

With NSC expected to concentrate on its core business which is elite athletes preparations, NSAs together with their affiliates will have to step to start playing a more bigger and responsible role.

NSAs also cannot continue to be depending solely on the Government to be totally be funding from A to Z.

While the Government is still going to fund development, but with a more stringent approach where accountability, meeting KPIs and constant monitoring, NSAs themselves find their own funds.

There could be a fine day that the Government decides not to fund as much as they are for sports and put it to other areas and if NSAs and their affiliates are not standing on their own feet, it could be a black day for Malaysian sports and could well suffer a natural death.

Azalina has already started talking about matching funds and NSAs and their affiliates should take the cue and get more responsibly.

There are already several NSAs like badminton, squash and tenpin bowling to name a few who already have been sourcing for their own funds and it is no surprise that they are ahead of other NSAs not only in terms of professional management and administration, but the performance of their sports itself.

More NSAs have to follow suit, and presidents and senior members of the respective NSAs, have to start the ball rolling to put their associations on firmer grounds and not just expect the Government to funding them all the time.

NSAs are the guardians of their respective sports and unless they make a concerted effort for their bodies to more focused and aggressive in the development of their sports, it is their sport which is eventually going to suffer a natural death.

It is about time too for NSAs to be managed professionally with professional staffing. Volunteerism is fine, but where a solid commitment is requires to get NSAs moving, professionals have to be hired to manage NSAs like corporate companies.

The time has come to determine the future of Malaysian sports finally and NSAs and their affiliates have to stand up and be counted or left out!