Sunday, December 31, 2006

Doha debate (December 2006 - Malaysian Today)

Doha debate

THE debate on whether the Malaysian contingent to the 15th Doha Asian Games which ended last week, had passed or failed in their mission is still ongoing.

While general consensus is that the contingent have done better than all previous Games and thus have done well, there are still some media apprehension is that Malaysia fell one short of a gold medal from the performance prospect analysis (PPA) given by the National Sports Council, thus it was a failure.

There are some critics who say that NSC had under-targeted, although the media themselves have not come out in the open to say what was a reasonable target was and state their stand of how many gold medals was expected of the contingent.

Agreed, that the contingent fell one short of the targeted nine gold medals, and that some gold medals won, were not mentioned in the PPA.

But it must be underlined that PPA is a projection based on current performance of athletes, their personal bests, national records and that against the performance of the competitors.

It was not a figure picked out of a bag or by a wave of a magic wand.

But that again, the PPA was in no way the guaranteed medal haul expected, because in sports there is no guarantees.

There are other elements on the day of the event that might throw all projections out of the window, for instance the emergence of a competitor which has not been known to the general public, injuries, mishaps, tactical disasters and to a certain extend even the element of luck.

And it is only common in sports that when one projection fails to win a gold medal, another athlete might just step up make up for the loss.

The PPA is a projection and not the ultimate results expected because it never works that way in sports.

Malaysia’s final medal haul of eight gold, 17 silver and 17 bronze for a total of 42 medals is the best ever achieved by a Malaysian contingent since Malaysia competed in Manila in 1954. (The first Games was held in New Delhi in 1951, where Malaya then, did not compete).

There is a need to look at the bigger picture rather than be narrowed minded and harp on the eight gold medal failure.

Without doubt, the Malaysian contingent could have done better. There is no denying in that. Infact, if everything had gone well, Malaysia could have even returned with twelve to thirteen gold medals.

But nevertheless, the achievement by contingent, still needs to be acknowledged and we have to move on to plan for the future using this performance as a base.

Yes, there were failures in Doha and namely sports like soccer, hockey, shooting, boxing, road cycling, and to a certain extend karate (do not forget that although they won no gold medals, they were in four finals), sailing (despite winning a gold medal, while favourite Dr Kevin Lim did not deliver).

Rest assured the NSC will be taking the necessary measures to put these sports in their places.

The Youth and Sports Minister, Datuk Azalina Othman Said, has come out strongly to say that a ranking system for all sports is expected to be introduced, where fundings will depend on their current ranking status.

She has also indicated that sports who have been receiving funding for sometime now, but have not produced any outstanding results, may see them receive very much less funding and probably if there is any funding is given out, it will be to the development of the sports.

National Sports Associations (NSAs) too have to be held accountable for any failures, for just because NSC is involved in preparing and in some cases even developing their athletes, all blames should just be heaved to them. It is a partnership between NSC and NSAs and it is only fair that it moments of glory or despair, it should be shared equally.

At the rate things are going there is even a possibility that NSC might just hand out the funds for development (subject to scrutiny and approval) to the NSAs and allow them to do the development work solely but with Key Performance Index (KPI) to fulfil.

This will give NSC the time and manpower to solely concentrate on elite athletes.

Coming back to the Doha Asian Games, in the bigger picture surely the best ever gold, silver and total medal haul must surely mean something.

Only the silver medal haul taken into account will place Malaysia sixth in the tally, while only the 17 bronze medals will see us placed ninth and on a total medal haul of 42, Malaysia will also be placed ninth out of the 45 countries who participated.

The gold medal haul has now been spread over five sports (squash, bowling, wushu, badminton and sailing), instead of four at the last Games

Critics will still say that only badminton is among the Olympics sports (optimist is not among the events in Olympics sailing).

While it is fine to compare medal hauls from Olympics sports at the Asian Games, let us not forget that we are now reviewing the Asian Games and the medals won here were contested in Doha.

Besides, all efforts are being made to see other sports like athletics, shooting, archery, and gymnastics to move into the Olympics categories and it certainly cannot be achieved overnight.

The last Olympics just ended two years ago in Athens and to expect Olympic standard athletes to have been found in two years is like hoping for a miracle.

Malaysia’s overall standing from the last Games in Busan where we have move one rung up from 12th to 11th in Doha, must also be noted.

Among the South East Asian countries, we are second to Thailand, whereas kingpins in SEA Games like Indonesia, Philippines and even Vietnam are all below us. And the population of these countries certainly far exceeds Malaysia’s 25 million.

There were also several young athletes who emerged in Doha for example the badminton doubles gold winning pair Khoo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong, Ruffina Tan in sailing, Daniel Bego and Siow Yi Ting in swimming, Josiah Ng in cycling and Esther Tan in bowling who paint a bright future for Malaysian sports in the future.

The overall picture certainly paints a reasonably good outing for Malaysia and we should look on the positive aspects and use them as a foundation to better things.

If just the short of one gold medal is used as yardstick between success and failure, then does that mean that Korea who won 96 gold medal in Busan and finished fourth but who went to win only 58 in Doha and finished third overall, while countries like Thailand who targeted 15 gold medal but attained 13, Chinese Taipei who had 15 listed as their target but only achieved nine, are all failures.

Targets are meant to be targets and certainly not the magical figure which is certain to be achieved and an allowance must always be given for errors.

But at the end of the day, the Malaysian contingent (at least the majority of them) can walk with their heads high for the various achievements.

Let us not put a good thing down and be cynical about everything, but instead look at the bigger picture and move forward. Lets take one step at a time before we expect the giant leap!

G S B Total No. of Sports No. of Sports
(Gold Medals) (Total Medals)
Bangkok 1966 7 5 6 18 2 3
Busan 2002 6 8 16 30 4 14
Doha 2006 8 17 17 42 5 14

SEA Countries:

Thailand 13 15 26 54 9 17
MALAYSIA 8 17 17 42 5 14
Singapore 8 7 12 27 4 9
Philippines 4 6 9 19 3 7
Vietnam 3 13 7 23 2 9
Indonesia 2 3 15 20 2 11
Myanmar 0 4 7 11 0 5
Laos 0 1 0 1 0 1

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Looking ahead

AS we usher in another New Year in two days time, sports enthusiasts of the country will look back to see what has been achieved and what the New Year has in store.

A stock check is indeed in order, with 2007 being the nation’s 50th year of independence.

While many efforts are going to be made to reminisce the “good old days of sports in the nation” and to record all the golden moments to celebrate the occasions, it is even more important that the years ahead of us see better moments to be remembered.

After all, that’s what progression all about – to get better with times.

Of course, critics will say that sports over the last two decades have taken a downward trend because of many factors – both internal within in the sports fraternity and external where changing times of the modern society has seen parents and children give less importance to sports.

And there is certainly truth in the views of the critics because it is a fact of the matter.

However, if the critics continue to critisise, without giving constructive solutions, it is not going to help sports one bit.

That is why it is sad to see efforts by parties like the National Sports Associations (NSAs), Olympic Council of Malaysia and the Youth and Sports Ministry through the National Sports Council (NSC) to raise the standards of sports in the country, getting knocked down and being impatient to see the end results.

Nothing in life happens overnight and it is no different in sports. Everything needs effort, planning, execution and continuous effort, planning and execution.

For the New Year, the Cabinet Committee for Sports headed by the Deputy Prime Minister himself, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. Are expected to meet in January and top of the discussion will be the Doha Asian Games for it was suppose to be yardstick for review and further stand of Government funding.

While there are different schools of thoughts on the Malaysian contingent’s performance in Doha, the fact that performance generally improved.

Of course, some sports were a down, while others stepped up to deliver.

Maybe the time has come for Malaysian sports not to spread itself thin and wide in their search for success in sports.

It should concentrate on a few sports that have shown potential and delivered in the patch. A few more sports where there is potential to do well at the world class field because physique does not into the picture like archery and shooting to name two, should be given support, but at development level so that the sports can be developed for the future.

Generally, the mandate should be given to work on sports which have been managed well as professionals, have a sound development programmes, have the manpower resources to carry out the programmes effectively, and have a track record of performance like badminton, squash and bowling.

Another group of sports, who are beginning to shown signs of positiveness like athletics, must be assisted by on a selective basis.

Others like hockey and soccer will have to give more emphasis on development.

In any programmes there will be success and failures, but for a continued process, there has to be movement forward using the positive aspects of each programme as a stepping stone.

From the Jaya Program in 1998, all following programs have been continuous programmes for specific events. In addition, along the process, we will have athletes who fall out, while others emerge as newcomers and go on to establish themselves, while we will have the “old faithfuls” who will continue to perform to stay in the program.

Malaysian sports next two events are the December Sea Games in Thailand and next year’s Olympics in China.

Cuts are expected to make the programs trim and lean, but all indications are that sports will continue to get the support it has been getting all this while.

But to make it all worthwhile, there has been a concerted joint effort from the NSAs, OCM and NSC.

There needs to be professionalism on everyone’s part – be it athletes, officials, coaches or even administrators.

There certainly has to be accountability and running to hide when trouble hits the fence or even worse shifting the blame to others will not do.

There also needs to be transparency from all quarters to ensure that everything is above board and that all programs are run effectively and well.

Let us make this 50 years independence a meaningfully one, by having to show some real progress in sports and not just imaginary ones or yesteryears glories we have to fall back to give a pat on our backs.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Doha experience (December 2006 - Malaysian Today)

Doha experience

THE 15th Asian Games comes to an end today in Doha and while countries return either elated, contended or disappointed with their performance in the Games, the host themselves will be judged.

It is without doubt that the Doha Asian Games Organising Committee (DAGOC) have gone out of their way to make this Games successful mainly through the money splashed to a tune of about three billion US dollars.

So much so that all the important aspects of organising the Games has left in the experienced hands of organising personnel from the Sydney and Athens Olympics.

Qatar with the population of 700,000 of which only about 300,000 are Qataris, certainly had manpower woes and their approach to get hired hands was understandable.

However, European invasion of the Games in Doha, saw the Games lose the Asian spirit of friendliness, warmth and hospitality.

Many, be it athletes, officials, media or even foreign visitors to the Games have left or will leave Doha, disappointed with the way they have been treated.

I have covered the Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994 and Bangkok Asian Games 1998 and still cherish the memories of being treated as a guest with their warmth, friendliness and charm.

But here in Doha, all we got was arrogance and being treated like criminals.

Even the locals who were involved in the Games did not make it pleasant because of the natural rough nature they talk.

Malaysian officials, athletes and media personnel had complains from day 1 to the day they left of being treated badly.

To make it worse, the Greeks and Australians who were hired to run the Games even more high handed in their approach that it made many wonder if it was the Asian Games or the European Games!

It was the Games for Asians and we were made to feel like aliens at own Games.

The only hospitality shown during the Games was the volunteers and hospitality staff at the Protocol Lounges who comprised mainly of Asians.

And to make matters worse, these volunteers and hospitality staff were treated badly by the Europeans who were their heads or supervisors.

There were instances when Malaysian athletes and officials were prevented from joining the victory ceremonies, not allowed to walk out exit gates because it was only meant for accredited cars and asked to walk hundreds of meters around for the pedestrians exit, accreditation cards literally snatched by security cards to check and there were 101 don’ts.

Chief technical delegates who were running the respective sports, including Malaysians, were not even allowed to the arena to conduct their daily business.

Many of the security guards were following instructions like robots and did not use their discretion or common-sense when the situation warranted. Many did not have a clue of what the various abbreviations and numbers used on the tags for access.

To make it worse, their superiors be it Qataris or the Europeans, only made the situation worse by being impossible.

It is hoped such a situation does not happen again in the Asian Games. The Olympic Council of Asia have to seriously think about the capability of local population participation in managing the Games before awarding it.

The last thing we need is for the Asian Games to be run by Europeans and take the very essence of the Games to be truly Asian.

Already we have Germans, Americans, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Senegalese, English and France in the name of naturalization competing for countries in the Asian Games. Soon the Asian Games will no longer look Asian.

Yes we can get foreign expertise for instance the shows for the opening and closing shows, but even then, surely there are able Asians who can do and equally good job if not better.

Let us not sale our Games to the foreigners. Let us be proud of out Games and any milestones made, should belong to the Asians. The colonial days are long over and we certainly do not need to be treated as slaves and outcast in our very own Games.

Besides, the bitter experience here in Doha which as made a nightmare Games rather than an enjoyable and memorable one, the Malaysians will at least return that despite the adversities they managed to stay focus and deliver.

Malaysia will returned with eight gold medals, which bettered the previous Games in Busan’s achievement of six gold and or even surpass the best ever achievement in the Games history of seven gold at the Bangkok Games in 1966.

The total number of medals haul is also the best ever surpassing 30 achieved in Busan, while the silver medal haul to surpasses the best of 13 in Hiroshima.

The gold medal tally certainly could have been higher if not for upsets like in the bodybuilding, karate and the many silvers which were close seconds in the respective sports.

It could have been a better outing, but one which is satisfactory. However, there is plenty of work to be done to move on from where we have reached and a more dedicated effort from the national sports associations is required.

The Government has been funding generously and are expected to continue to do so with the achievements in Doha, but there are some sports who might be put on the mat and they have only to blame themselves.

The onus is now on themselves to rise and fight they way back for recognition for funding from the Government.

And National Sports Council INSC) is also expected to be tougher on national associations seeking funding, as they are expected only to deal and fund those who are managed well with sound development programmes and have proven results.

The time is long overdue for NSC to be cruel to be kind.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Target question (2006 - Malaysian Today)

Target question

THE 15th Asian Games in Doha is well underway and after seven days of competition Malaysia have won two gold , three silver and two bronze medals.

The million ringgit question on everyone’s lips is whether Malaysia is going to surpass their previous Games in Busan’s achievement of six gold or even better to surpass the best ever achievement in the Games history of seven gold at the Bangkok Games in 1966.

But with the National Sports Council (NSC) having come with a “Performance Prospect Assessment” for a haul of nine gold medal, expectations is running even higher.

Many have questioned what on what is this new coined term, Performance Prospect Assessment.

It is certainly no crystal ball gazing or picking up a number from the hat to say that that is the number of gold medals expected to be won.

The figure NSC gave came about assessing athletes current performance, condition as apposed to performances of their opponents currently. A lot of work has been put in by head of Doha Asian Games preparations head, Damien Kelly.

Critics still say that the nine gold medal hopes is still a modest figure.

So what is the magical number then? With not even the media having not come up with the magical gold haul number in Doha, as far as NSC is concerned, it will be looking at the nine gold medal haul.

With bowling already having delivered their 100 percent expectations of two gold medals, although the two won was not in events that they listed down for – men and women team events – but in the women’s singles (Esther Cheah) and men’s trios (Alex Liew, Daniel Lim and Ben Heng), there could be more from them.

Except for the badminton team who has failed to reach the final when they went down to Korea in the semifinals, other projections given by NSC seem to be on target.

But of course silver medals from equestrian, swimming which were not among the medals in NSC’s list is a welcome sign.

But at the sametime, sports which were not in the performance prospect assessment chart, did not mean that they were no hopers. It was just that it was felt that it was more difficult to win medals in these events. As in the case of equestrian no medals were set for them by NSC, as the latter as not involved in the preparation of their athletes.

In anycase, NSC had clearly indicated that every sports which travels to Doha should be aiming for a medal and not just making numbers.

While despite bowling’s deliverance of gold medals, there is an apprehension that Malaysia will not do well.

There is a strong possibility that Malaysia’s gold rush will come next week when the Games will see most sports move to the final stages.

Many sports currently are still in the early stages of their competition while others like karate, athletics wushu and diving yet to start.

The Deputy Youth and Sports Minister, Datuk Liow Tong Lai who was here to visit the athletes and Youth and Sports Minister, Datuk Azalina Othman Said, who is here currently, have both expressed confidence that the athletes will deliver, despite hiccups from sports like badminton.

However, one thing is clear here in Doha, most of the giants at the Games like China, Japan, South Korea and even South East Asian kingpins, Thailand, have all come here with extensive preparation and huge amounts of money pumped to their sports.

Yes, Malaysia too have pumped in money to sports, but it is really compared peanuts when compared to these giants.

Sure, Malaysia’s size of population too is no comparison to these giant nations, but the fact remains that the sports play a vital part in their society and is treated seriously by all including the athletes because it is an opportunity for better living for them.

But for Malaysians who are more often than not in the comfort zone well before they can produce any respectable results, they always feel that there will be another day for them. Malaysia also lacks a good base of athletes in the various sports.

However for the Doha Asian Games, the expected medals should be delivered.

The athletes and coaches realise how important it is for them to perform here and deliver because it has been made clear to all of them of the importance of the Doha Asian if funding from the Government is to continue and increase.

And indications from athletes in Doha is that they will deliver.

Bowling could well be a shining example for other associations as they continue to perform and could well surpass their target by even 100 percent.

A bulk of the gold medal is expected to come this weekend onwards in sports like bodybuilding, karate, squash and wushu.

And it will be little surprise if our athletes even hit the big 10 or even more this time around.

There are bound to be some surprises, like badminton, but it will definitely not be for want for trying.

The performance here in Doha could well be a boost for the future of Malaysian sports.

However, there is a lot more that the athletes themselves have to do if they are to compete at the highest level and perform because competition is only getting tougher at both the world and Asian level.

Malaysia certainly needs a bigger pool of athletes and elite athletes having to excel at the highest level possible.

There is no more room for part-time or athletes who are not serious about sports but just marking their time.

The Government too has to make some bold decisions to send the message clearly to the athletes to emerge as world beaters, consistently and probably in a few selected sports.

It is sincerely hoped that in the next column there will be accolades for the athletes rather than brickbats because this is a do-or-die mission for Malaysian sports.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Nicol booster for Doha (2006 - Malaysian Today)

Nicol booster for Doha

Malaysian sports could not have received a better morale booster for the Doha Asian Games which begin today.

Nicol Ann David first proved that Malaysians can be world champions and even more underlying in feat was that it was not a flash-in-the-pan victory when she went to defend the women’s World Open squash title in Belfast earlier this week.

Make no mistake about it that it is even more difficult to defend one’s crown than to win it the first time.

The petite Nicol who hails from Penang has certainly proved that Malaysian sportsmen and women can be world beaters and do it on a consistent basis.

But Nicol’s victory was certainly not handed on a sliver platter to her. She had to work very hard with total focus and determination to achieve what she did.

She keeps her feet firm on the ground and always says that there is more for her to learn and this modesty is what makes champions.

We had sprinter Nazmizan Muhamamd win the Vietnam Sea Games gold and that was the last we have heard of him. He claims to be injured and still trains with the support of NSC, but one wonders why.

He is more comfortable writing columns trying to motivate others from his probably flash-in-the-pan victory. How else can one conclude when one victory was enough to satisfy this athlete who has already been said that he wants to hang his spikes and settle down.

It takes a lion-heart to have achieved what Nicol has done because she was always against the odds against the much better physically built and exposed players in the squash circuit.

But Nicol took the bold decision to pull her self from the comfort of home and base herself in Holland and work very hard to overcome the odds.

She uses her asset in being lighting quick on feet as compared to the more physically better built players.

The support of the Squash Racquet Association of Malaysia, the Ministry of Youth and Sports through the National Sports Council, has certainly been a great heap for Nicol.

But at the end of the day, it is Nicol who is on the courts against her opponents and the last call to be a champion or not is her decision. And time again, she has proved that she is hungry enough to want more.

Nicol dominated the junior scene with two world titles in 1999 and 2001 and now she has stamped her mark at the senior level and at 23, there is certainly more to come.

Nicol will not compete in Doha to give Malaysia one of their gold medal. She will certainly start as a favourite and there is tremendous pressure on her. But rest assured that Nicol will not forgo the gold for not want of trying.

Nicol’s victory in Belfast should certainly serve as a morale booster for the Asian Games contingent who begin their challenge to return with at least nine gold medals.

Besides Nicol, the physically challenged athletes’ performance in the 9th Fespic Games which ends today in Kuala Lumpur, should also serve as a motivation factor for the athletes in Doha.

For the Fespic Games, they had a modest target of ten gold medals but they have surpassed it target more that double with their haul of …….(pls insert final gold medal won by Malaysia).

For those who took the opportunity to witness these physically challenged athletes complete, words will not explain what they had experienced.

For those who had missed the action, it is sad because they had missed a rare opportunity can change the lives of many after watching these athletes are capable of despite their setbacks. The spirit, morale, determination is something even the normal athletes fail to show.

The difference between the physically challenged athletes and the normal athletes is that the former appreciate any form assistance given to them and want to repay the confidence placed on them with top performances, while the latter take for granted what is offered to them and feel that everyone else owes to them to support them.

Maybe, we will get an Olympic gold medal from a physically challenged athlete! Surely not something to dismiss it.

But for now, all eyes will be on the Games of the Life.

It is time for the show to begin and the athletes to perform.

A great deal of the future funding for athletes in the coming years will depend a great deal on their performance here because a great deal of money has been spent for the preparation.

It is time to reap the rewards and it is time for the athletes to stand up and be counted.

Do not give excuses that they have a flu, have peaked too early, have aches and pains or the weather is too cool for their comfort here in Doha.

It is time for the athletes to prove that they are made of sterner stuff than mash mellows!