Friday, September 18, 2009

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish!

The government has allocated a RM16 million budget to prepare 19 athletes from four sports - badminton, archery, cycling and diving - for the 2012 London Olympics. (Read the NST report)

The latest, more than one billion ringgit is expected to be splurged on 1Malaysia F1 team through government and private sector initiative (Read here)

Great efforts have been made to justify the sizable F1 investment.(Benefits outweigh F1 Investment)

The Monsoon Cup costs about RM30 million to organise yearly and not to mention that
the location, which was built at a cost of RM250 million. All is fine that so much money is being splashed on sports and great efforts are being made to justify the investment.

My only contention is, if half of all this amount was channeled towards sports development and long term plans to raise the profile and standard of the various sports, we would be sure in line for not one Olympic medal, but many.

Why aren't the private sectors coming forward to assist to lift Malaysian sports where we have a realistic chance of winning Olympic and World titles.

I cannot help but raise the High Performance Training Centre (HPTC) which was planned three years ago to be based at the Tun Abdul Razak Rubber Research
Centre (TARRC) in Hertfordshire, but was received with opposition from day one until it the idea was buried.

National Day celebrations for Malaysians in London at TARRC

Never mind that the East Herts Council Development Control Committee which met on Nov 14, 2007 rejected the application to set up a HPTC at TARRC because the idea had hurdles like the Green Belt Land.

I am writing purely for the benefit of Malaysian sports and athletes through a centre like HPTC in England. The land at TARRC was a Malaysian property and it would have been an ideal training centre through the immersion process.

The Malaysian Under-15 soccer team training at TARRC

Today, we still want to send out athletes overseas for competition and training overseas in preparation for the Olympics. We will just be paying money for all these and no guarantee that the elusive Olympic gold medal will be won at the 2012 in England.

At least if we had centre in England, the cost of sending athletes would have been reduced drastically and at the end of the day, for the money spent we will still have facilities we can call our own which can be used over and over.

I will not go into the benefits of an overseas centre because it has been argued on numerous occasions, but critics just choose to ignore the arguments for reasons best known to themselves.

But today when millions, sorry billions are spend on other areas of sports which benefit the foreigners and private individuals more than anything else, all those critics choose to be silent or express their views in a very subtle manner.

To make matters worse, all those critics on the HPTC project refused to listen to facts and the truth , as they blindly pursued their agenda to stop the project.

For starters, there was no RM490 million budget for the HPTC and despite numerous efforts by then National Sports Council (NSC) director-general, Datuk Dr Ramlan Abd Aziz, to put the record right, he was belittled, called a liar and shown no respect.

Even the revelation on how the RM490 million figure came about, saw the critics refuse to listen to the truth.

The truth of the matter was that that RM490 million figure was first highlighted in the Straits Times in Singapore by their Malaysian correspondent and basically it was a story to say that Malaysia was going have a HPTC.

It was then picked up by Malaysian newspapers and was taken to task from day one.

Another truth was that the story was written by the correspondent who was privy to a copy to a document which was discussed at the Sports Cabinet Committee chaired by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

That document was actually a feasibility study report which Datuk Seri Najib had requested ONLY to determine how much it cost to build any sports facilities in England. The consultants had given a report for a full Sports Complex facilities. Datuk Seri Najib, on being presented the report said that they now know how much it could cost to build the various facilities and asked the report to be put away for reference, as no decision was taken yet on what facilities were going to be built at TARRC.

In that report, it was stated that it would cost 65 million pounds to build the full blown sports complex with all the facilities.

For starters, there was no way that a sports complex could be built as there were the local council of Hertfordshire requirements and restrictions, besides having to share the site with Lembah Getah Malaysia (LGM), the owners of TARCC.

But that report was leaked out and the truth of what transpired at the Cabinet Committee was not disclosed to correspondent, but just told that a HPTC was going to be built.

Datuk Ramlan had in the Press Conference on July 14, 2006, tirelessly tried his best to put across the truth, but the media simply refused to listen to him.

The media asked if it is not 65 million pounds, then how much is it. Datuk Ramlan did not have an answer because no decision was taken on what was going to be built on TARRC pending on approval to build anything on the 40 acre land which already had existing buildings.

Besides, this project moved from one Cabinet meeting to another as Datuk Seri Najib was keeping a close tab.

Finally, after almost year later, in another Sports Cabinet meeting, it was decided that a
ceiling of 10 millions pounds be approved to build only a few essentials facilities for the training centre. Even then the critics were not happy and said that the figured was lowered to 10 million pounds because of their hounding. They still did not approve of the centre.

But as it turned out, the East Herts Council Development Committee rejected the HPTC application and the Brickendonbury project was buried. (Read the East Herts Council Development Committee decision)

A MOU is due to be signed with the University of Bath early next year for our athletes to train there and all this is going to cost us. Besides, not all athletes will be able to train there, because there will be entry requirements unless a special arrangement is made just for training of our athletes. (Training in Bath).

In fact, the training at Bath, University Nottingham and Loughborough University and were all being engaged as early as three years ago, as places where our athletes can train but still stay at the TARRC.

However, because of all the stumbling blocks over the HPTC, all the plans were delayed. In the process, China, with all they money managed to convince to accept them for their training preparations for the England Olympics.

We would have been three years ahead of China, if only our plans had gone according to schedule.

We even had one journalist being quoted in a newspaper in Hertfordshire that when the former had spoken to Malaysian Civil servants that East Herts Council will not allow any development, he was told not to be worried because the deputy prime minister (Datuk Seri Najib) was also the minister of defence.

The journalist was further quoted: "One of them, a very good source of mine, told me that 'the deputy PM is signing a few defence deals in the UK and he will get the right people to lobby for the approval."

I am surprised that this journalist was not hauled under the ISA.

I also wonder if the HPTC project was now mentioned by Datuk Seri Najib as the PM to be re-looked and to proceed, will he get the same opposition.

If there was anything not right about the spending or the deals, it should have been brought up to the proper channel and addressed.

But to kill a project which would have benefited Malaysia sports tremendously is indeed sad. There maybe different opinions on the matter, but say what you like, the idea of HPTC was an idea thought out of the box, innovative and something totally different to address the ailing situation of Malaysia sports.

Even the Sports of England were full of praise of the idea and Roy Warren, the Senior Planning Manager, gave a glowing report of the proposal and gave their full support.

One wonders, why no investigation is done on how much is being spent on maintaining the TARRC and how much money is spent on cutting the grass yearly. Some parts of the centre is even leased out to farmers to bring their herd of sheep to graze, to cut cost of cutting grass!

Some parts of the building are falling apart and it is pitiful site of such a beautiful property owned by Malaysians.

The rejection of the East Herts Council is nothing new in England. Yes, they are very strict and it takes a few rounds of application to convince them.

Bath University, in one of their expansion plans, faced similar situations and only got approval after a few rounds. Applications are rejected if developments disturb the inhabitant of bats! Bath had the problem, and they have to build a cave to relocate the bats before they were allowed to go ahead with their plans!

Malaysia has lost an excellent opportunity to take Malaysian sports to another level and indications are that we will remain Jaguh Kampung forever.

Below is the Press Release by Datuk Dr Ramlan Abd Aziz on the HPTC on July 14 2006, which the media did not believe. Let it go on record that Datuk Ramlan was telling the truth.

Selamat Hari Raya!

Datuk Dr Ramlan Abd Aziz’s (NSC Director-General) Press Release on the High Performance Training Centre, Brickendonbury at the National Sports Council on July 14th 2006

1. The figure of RM490 million for the HTPC in Brickendonbury quoted freely by all major newspapers and electronic media, besides the leader of the Opposition Party, is an absolutely wrong and highly speculative figure.

2. The RM490 million quoted, has never been and is not our costing for this Project. This has already been affirmed in the Parliament on 10th July (Monday) in a written reply by the Sports Ministry whereby it was stated “ the actual cost for the said training centre has not been established because we are still at the early stages of need analysis and the scope for the development of the centre.

3. This project got off ground with the principal approval of the Cabinet Committee for Sports Development (CCSD) chaired by the DPM and 15 Cabinet Ministers.

4. Further to that, as directed by the Cabinet, the National Sports Council (NSC) was instructed to explore the possibility of co-existence with the current occupants – TARRC.

5. TARRC sits on a 40 acre piece of land. The facilities readily available are:

i. Administrative building (offices, meeting rooms, lecture room etc)

ii. Lab building

iii. Staff quarters

iv. Canteen & Kitchen facilities

v. Football field

vi. 10 meter swimming pool

vii. Cricket oval

6. We have to date conducted the feasibility study and now are in the midst of consultation with the Lembaga Getah Malaysia (LGM). In any proposed development project, it is divided into four stages i.e scoping (feasibility study), design, construction and completion/management. Thus, it is clearly underlined that we are only in the first phase. This has been confirmed by the DPM himself in a report from Bangkok today.

7. This only underlines that the huge figure quoted for the development for the project is non-existent. However, on completion of the initial feasibility study, it was reported that it would generally cost 65 million pounds ((RM430 million) to build a full blown sports complex with all facilities available.

8. But clearly that project was not possible because there were the local council of Hertfordshire requirements and restrictions which had to be adhered and that the Sports Ministry would be sharing the site with LGM. Besides, it was never the intention of the Sports Ministry to have a complete sports complex in England, thus went on to dismiss the costing. The Centre is meant to be a hub, forwarding base for our athletes and not a huge sports facility as we have in Bukit Jalil.

9. The rationale behind in wanting to set up this sports hub with the mission to act as an immersion center for selected national athletes and create sports excellence through new training ground and lifestyle strategies.

10. The HPTC strategies included:

i) short-term training center for groups of selected elite athletes

ii) Strategic location, whereby London is seen as the “gate way: to Europe which will enable it to become a “forwarding base” for national athletes.

iii) The field of coaching can be developed as there is a larger pool of skilled coaches all over Europe and cost factor will be minimised as opposed to bringing foreign coaches to Malaysia.

iv) The utilization of existing facilities in an around the Hertfordshire area

v) To have joint programs with schools, universities, sports agencies and clubs in London and Europe

11. Currently over the last seven years till last year, an average of RM 2 million per year has been spent by NSC to send athletes from various sports for overseas training stints. This costing does not include competition costs. Thus, it is strongly felt with the setting up of the “sports hub” in England, expenditure for overseas training will drastically reduced, whilst giving more athletes to experience the “overseas stints”. Above all, Malaysian athletes will have a home away from home in the sports hub in England.

12. It has also to be pointed out that long term overseas stint by athletes under foreign expertise has no doubt brought about success at the highest level. Top of our minds are Nicol David, Josiah Ng, Azlan Iskandar, Ong Beng Hee, Sharon Wee, Ng Shu Wai, Noraseela Khalid, Ben Leong. Alex Lim, Kevin Lim to name few.

13. On a current note, the national junior squash team, who were the “pilot” team to use facilities in Hertfordshire, when they competed in Cologne and Amsterdam, have sent back initial raving reports of the facilities and competition that were available around the HPTC, which proved very useful as run-up to the actual competitions.

The National U-15 team at TARRC

14. The HPTC, may have received flak from various quarters, but the overall benefits for Malaysian sports to move to a new level and long term benefits, outweigh the criticisms. We hope that above clarification and explanation will change the views of many to support this noble and innovative idea to take Malaysian to the next level.


Anonymous said...

tony, not all journalist attacked the HPTC. As i recall, the NST did have a column written, basically asking MAlaysians to keep an open mind to this center as it seemed like a logical move to add some new innovation to Malaysian sports development.

Sadly however, we had other reporters that readily assumed they knew better than the likes of Dr Ramlan and bashed it right from the start. Looking back now, i believe Dato Najib and the former minister Azaline should have pushed it through if they felt it was the right thing to do. Thats the problem when we have some news columnist to opine on things they know very little about and the government caves in to them. Sad.

Anyway, im just a lover of sports and the sports scene is so boring these days. No news. No new developments. I dont even know who the new sports minister is or what he looks like.

I got your site from a friend. its interesting. keep it up sir.


Anonymous said...

The monsoon cup cost 30mil a year?? I would rather not have that event (an event that promotes a sport that 99.9% of Malaysians dont understand) and spend the money building that darn training center in UK! Thats my 2 sens worth.

Anonymous said...

Emmm nampaknya ada udang di sebalik mee dlm penulisan ini. Just because we don't have any base there it doesn't mean that we will fail totally. What a rubbish statement. 2012 olympic only 3 more year just focus with the current athlete training program and expose them to the highest competition level to prepare them. Not the center. What after london?? We must have another forward base in dubai then?? (Just pick the city to prove my point) after that tokyo then moscow??
My RM1 point