Friday, December 20, 2013

Sports as a national agenda

Friday, December 20, 2013 - The Malay Mail

GREAT development plans are being put in place or plans are underway for football, hockey and sepak takraw, thanks to the vision of Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
And for once we are not talking about short-term or ‘jumpstart’ programmes, but longterm ones leading into 2020. This is not just talk. The National Football Development Programme is already in motion.
With the recent Junior World Cup hockey team’s fourth place in New Delhi, a long-term programme for hockey, looking at the 2016 Junior World Cup and 2020 World Cup, is also expected to get underway.
Then with the continued dismal performance of sepak takraw, a similar long-term programme but with a different approach is also in the pipeline.
If these programmes are carried out in all seriousness and with the right people at the helm, the future looks bright.
My only concern is what will happen to all these programmes when Khairy is no longer the sports minister. Will they get buried as soon as the sports minister vacates his seat?
We have seen it happen time and again as every new sports minister who takes office wants to leave behind his or her own legacy or trademark. And in all fairness to many of the past sports ministers, several great programmes were launched, but sadly once they left office, these were shelved.
Millions of ringgit have been spent on past programmes, from talent identification and sports culture to mini-stadiums in every parliamentary constituency and grassroots development.
But sadly, there has not been proper follow through after the respective tenure of the ministers.
But Khairy has gone a step further to ensure that the programme he has initiated does not end up the same way.
He is proposing to make the NDFP a national agenda and get the cabinet’s approval to make it a national policy so that there is continuity and its full potential is realised even if he is no longer in the sports ministry to steer it.
It is hoped similar plans are also made for hockey and sepak takraw.
I am not being pessimistic, but even the Cabinet Committee for Sports Development, whose members included 15 Cabinet ministers and was chaired by the then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, no longer exists.
What was seen as a fast track to developing sports with the involvement of all the relevant ministries and headed by the DPM himself has been derailed.
So I am wondering if Khairy’s proposal to make his plan a national agenda will bear fruit.
I seriously hope so because Malaysian sport needs strong foundations with long-term planning. And if this is not going to be put in place now, we are going to continue to face disappointment after disappointment in the coming years as other nations continue to progress and leave us far behind.
That is why I have always wished that the sports and education ministers were long-term appointments or held by nonpoliticians.
But I suppose that is wishful thinking and for now Khairy’s national agenda looks the best bet.
The National Sports Policy introduced in 1988 by Najib when he was the minister of culture, youth and sports was supposed to drive Malaysian sports, but there have been several calls to revisit the policy and make it more relevant.
The National Sports Council (NSC) is supposed to be the financier of sports in the country, but then again, their policies also vary with each new sports minister and sometimes they go overboard with their own visions and policies.
There is no denying that a policy to streamline sports development on a long-term basis has to be in place and followed through no matter who helms the sports ministry or the NSC.
And the sooner this happens, the brighter the future.

TONY MARIADASS is sports editor of
The Malay Mail. He can be reached at

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How low can we go?

Monday, December 16, 2013 - The Malay Mail

ENOUGH is enough. The Sepak Takraw Association of Malaysia (STAM), headed by Datuk Ahmad Ismail (pic) , will have to once and for all take responsibility for the continuous rot in the game.
The latest debacle was at the Myanmar Sea Games on Friday where the men’s sepak takraw team picked up a bronze medal after finishing last and failing to win a match. It is indeed embarrassing for a nation who were kingpins of the game not too long ago.
Malaysia ended the four-team round robin competition with a 2-1 defeat to Indonesia, lost to host Myanmar 2-1 and Thailand 3-0.
Sepak takraw was introduced by Malaysia and we once ruled the sport. Now Thailand rule, with Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and even Myanmar taking us to the cleaners.
The current state and status of the sport did not arrive overnight. In fact, the writing has been on the wall for the last five to six years, but STAM seem to be in denial.
Sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin had taken STAM to task two months ago after the team’s loss to South Korea in the ISTAF Super Series leg in India and threatened to stop their RM1 million allocation per year.
But Ismail is immune to threats, as it had happened during previous sport minister’s terms and when National Sports Council (NSC) took a firm stand to cut financial aid, he accused them of not supporting the sport.
Ahmad is known for his controversial actions and remarks made in the fields of politics, business and sports. He normally has his way in the end and with new promises and plans, he continues to stay afloat.
However, the sport is the loser because it has hardly shown much progress.
Maybe Ahmad simply has too much on his plate to give his full-time attention to revive the sport.
But plans, Ahmad has many. Like pursuing to get an allocation of RM8.8 million to run a development programme for 17 months which was supposed to have been started in August.
When Malaysia are struggling to save their reputation, STAM are more interested in hosting the World Cup which they did two years ago.
Money spent on organising the world tournament, could be better used for the development and promotion of the game with the future in mind.
STAM have to seriously look at the sport and determine whether it enjoys popularity among the masses.
Is sepak takraw still played passionately every evening until failing light in the kampungs, districts and schools? Are there development programmes in place? Are the state associations doing enough to develop young talent? Are there enough coaches to coach the young? Are there enough or even any talent-scouts going the length and breadth of the nation to scout for fresh talent? Are the players passionate about the game and above all disciplined, determined and dedicated to excel in the game? These are questions that need to be answered urgently and with immediate solutions coming forth.
The last thing we need is to be still struggling by the time Malaysia host the Sea Games in 2017 and to face the embarrassment of losing to minnows in our own backyard.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Winning ... losing for solidarity

Friday, December 13, 2013 The Malay Mail
NATIONAL Sports Council director-general Datuk Seri Zolkples Embong has expressed dissatisfaction at biased judging in the 27th Sea Games' wushu competition that ended on Tuesday. He claimed that Malaysia were robbed of several gold medals.
Zolkples should not have feigned ignorance because biased judging had been prevalent in previous Sea Games. It usually happens in events where the points for performance are given at the judges’ discretion.
Although there are certain criteria which the judges have to follow in awarding the points, at the end of the day, they are the 'lords' and the results cannot be disputed.
Zolkples said he was puzzled why the judges did not favour Malaysia, although the medals were evenly distributed among the participating countries.
"I am baffled as to how all the countries obtained at least one gold medal. If a certain country deserved to win, it should have been awarded the medal.
The medals should not have been distributed evenly," he was quoted as saying in Naypyitaw.
The national wushu squad ended their challenge with three gold medals, which were won by Diano Bong Siong Lin, Phoon Eyin and Tai Cheau Xuen.
The team achieved the Sports Ministry's target of three gold medals while the association had targeted five. Obviously, when the ministry set the target, it would have taken into account gold medals that would be lost in the name of solidarity.
A total of 23 gold medals were at stake in the wushu competition. But it is the norm to distribute them among the participating countries to ensure these countries support the inclusion of the sport in the next biennial series.
There has been this unwritten ‘understanding’ ever since wushu was included in the Games. Karate, taekwondo and other traditional events have a similar arrangement
I still remember when the Malaysian karate team, who were the favourites to pick up a few gold medals at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, had nothing to show after four days of competition.
When I asked the team official what was happening and if Malaysia would win a gold medal at all, he answered: “It is not our day yet.”
When pressed for an explanation, he said: “I will let you know when we are going to win the gold medal.”
Sure enough, in the last few days of the competition, he said: “We will win the gold medal today and maybe even two.”
Malaysia went on to win two gold medals in the kumite light category through M. Chandran (55kg) and M. Rajoo (70kg).
While I was interviewing the exponents, the said official, grinning from ear to ear, remarked: “I told you we would win gold medals today. Today is our day."
Then he added: "We cannot afford to have one or two nations dominate an event like ours. Then, the others will lose interest in the sport and will not support it for the next Games.
We distribute the medals so that everyone is happy.” So much for fair play in sports!
Biased judging will continue to surface in subjective events unless the Sea Games Federation (SGF) take a firm stand and weed them out. Otherwise, this will be part and parcel of the Games in the name of solidarity.
Maybe, the SGF should consider holding a separate tournament for indoor games and call it the ‘Family Games’.
This way, the medals won by measurable sports on merit — distances and times — will not be diluted by medals raked from subjective sports.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Let the Games continue

Friday, December 06, THE MALAY MAIL

CONTRARY to general consensus that the Sea Games have outlived its importance and needs to be revisited, the biennial Games — which was inaugurated in 1959 as the Seap Games — is still very much relevant.
Myanmar host the Games again after 44 years from Dec 11 to 22, although it began unofficially yesterday. The country's new capital Naypyitaw is the main venue for the Games while events will also be held in Yangon, Mandalay and Ngwe Saung Beach.
Although things are expected to be chaotic in Myanmar as they attempt to shine in the international arena just two years after the end of military rule and the lifting of Western sanctions, the Games will go on in the true spirit of sport and the people of Myanmar are likely to get pats on their backs.
It was no different when Brunei, Vietnam and Laos hosted the Games for the first time in 1999, 2003 and 2009 respectively when they were faced with many uphill tasks, but managed to pull through in the end.
Even experienced hosts like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia had had teething problems whenever they hosted the Games.
Trust me I know. I covered 12 consecutive Games from 1983 in Singapore to 2005 in Manila and every Games had its own problems. But it was a great experience soaking in the electrifying atmosphere of the Games, something money cannot buy. These are memories I will treasure for life.
The point here is that the Games help Southeast Asian countries, athletes and officials in many ways. For example, the managerial skills gained from hosting the Games prove invaluable to local sports officials when preparing for bigger international events while home athletes gain a platform to shine and achieve higher targets.
Some may argue that the Sea Games has lost its importance because many nations have already established themselves as leaders in sports and their athletes have attained high standards in the international field.
That may be so, but the Games can still be used to groom young athletes. The argument to hold the Sea Games for just under-23 athletes may hold water, but we need to look at the big picture. Yes, football in the Games is already confined to the under-23 as the sport has grown tremendously. But the same cannot be said of all sports, especially athletics.
Besides, there are enough events to expose young talent, from the Asean Schools Games, Commonwealth Youth Games, Asian Youth Games and Youth Olympics to the youth and school championships for the respective sports.
In any case, it is up to the nations or national associations of sports whether they want to send seasoned athletes or development athletes to the Games, depending on the status of the sports concerned
Although at times some host countries have too many sports and include traditional events to ensure they win extra medals for the overall tally, generally all sports included in the Sea Games are either Olympic events or those competed at the Asian or Commonwealth Games.
Statistics show that in the last seven Games, 28 Olympic sports were part of the Sea Games. And with the exception of the 1999 Brunei Games and 2009 Laos Games, there have been an average of 22 Olympic sports in the Sea Games. Of the 28 Olympic sports, 24 were included in four or more in the past seven Games.
As for non-Olympic sports, 13 were added in four or more Games to a total of 28 sports in the last seven Games. But these sports, such as billiards and snooker, tenpin bowling, karate, sepak takraw, bodybuilding, lawn bowls, squash and wushu, were also competed in the Asian or Commonwealth Games.
Thus, to say that the sports competed in the Sea Games do not serve any purpose is totally wrong.
Other areas where the Sea Games provide a training ground include media (television production), marketing, Games technology, sponsorship, merchandising and security, to name but a few.
Of the five regional Games in Asia, namely East Asia, Sea, Central Asia, West Asia and South Asia, the Sea Games is ranked second and its athletes have gone on to win Asian and Olympic medals.
Thus, with the Sea Games serving as a foundation for the ultimate goal of being the best in Asia and the world, it cannot be said that it does not serve a purpose or that it is irrelevant.
Ask veteran sports official Datuk Sieh Kok Chi — adviser to many nations that host the Sea Games, including Myanmar — and he will tell you how the Games have put Southeast Asian countries on the map over the years.
At the end of the day, how relevant the Games are to a certain sport depends on the sports associations and use it accordingly to send development or seasoned athletes.
But as long as associations do not use the Games as a holiday or biennial reward trip, the Games will continue to be relevant.
Besides, the Sea Games has proved time and again that it bridges political, religious and ethnic diversities.
So let us enjoy it and savour the moments.