Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman unveiled the Esports Strategic Development Plan earlier last week and announced that the government would allocate RM20 million from Budget 2020 towards the plan.
When Khairy Jamaluddin was the sports minister, he set up the National Football Development Plan (NFDP). Prior to that Datuk Azalina Othman Said wanted to promote martial arts and women in sports.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, during his tenure as the sports minister, was into extreme sports. Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Othman on his part wanted to promote grassroot programmes with the Rakan Muda .
Every time a new sports minister is appointed, it is almost a certain rule that he/she would come with a plan to promote a personal sporting agenda.
The NFDP seems to be the only programme initiated by a previous minister to continue receiving government injection.
How much research actually goes into such decision making is anyone’s guess. How much does the National Sports Policy weigh in on such decisions?
The main aim of the National Sports Policy is to create sports culture among Malaysians, This encompasses the participation in sports and physical activities through sports for all, high performance sports and sports as an industry.
There are many who question whether the prominence given to football and esports is justified. On a purely financial perspective, esports is a booming industry and this is seen as the main reason for the government’s interest in esports.
Malaysia was ranked 21 in the global game market in 2017 with an estimated revenue of almost RM2 billion. It has been included at the Manila SEA Games as well as the next Asian Games and is also knocking on the doors of the Olympics. The financial strength of the sports is key among the reasons why esports is on the rise.
Are we putting in too much emphasis on elite level sports, chasing for short term glory instead of focusing on creating a proper sports culture among Malaysian youth?
Are Malaysians, especially our youngsters, getting enough physical activities and is the government doing enough to ensure they do?
In a study published in The Lancet last week, we find out how 1.6 million adolescent school students from across 146 countries, including Malaysia, are faring in terms of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) physical activity recommendations.
The WHO guidelines for this age group recommend a minimum of one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day for children and adolescents aged 15-17 years. Such activities should also include activities that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 times per week.
The study provided figures for two time points – 2001 and 2016. In 2016, an average of just one in five adolescents across the 146 countries, including Malaysia, met the recommended physical activity levels. More boys met these guidelines compared to the girls.
In 2001, 82.5% of Malaysian adolescent boys did not meet the target and after 15 years, the figure has come down to 80.6%. For girls, the figures were 91.1% in 2001 and in 2016 it has gone up to 91.4%.
The fact that only two of ten boys and 1 out of 10 in the age group get enough physical activity is concerning.
The figures for 2016 are much better for some of our neighbours like Singapore (69.7% for boys and 83.1% for girls) and Thailand (70.2% for boys and 85% for girls).
Another research conducted in 2015, confined to Australian adolescents, found that a child’s physical activity participation often peaks in primary school, before they transition into secondary schools.
For the record Australians teenagers fare much worse than the Malaysian in the study published in The Lancelot.
In high school, there tend to be less areas conducive to outdoor physical activities, like playgrounds. High school students are often exposed to more spaces for sitting and socialising, and the research shows they start to develop negative attitudes towards physical education.
Sedentary behaviour is also seen to increase during secondary schooling, with a higher proportion of students using electronic devices for longer than the recommended two hours per day for recreation and entertainment.
WHO has been on the forefront to get countries and communities to take the necessary actions to provide individuals with more opportunities to be active, in order to increase physical activity.
Such policies to increase physical activity must aim to ensure that:
- in cooperation with relevant sectors physical activity is promoted through activities of daily living;
- walking, cycling and other forms of active transportation are accessible and safe for all;
- labour and workplace policies encourage physical activity;
- schools have safe spaces and facilities for students to spend their free time actively;
- quality physical education supports children to develop behaviour patterns that will keep them physically active throughout their lives; and
- sports and recreation facilities provide opportunities for everyone to do sports.
How much effort and money is being injected to ensure that Malaysians truly embrace the sporting culture?
Of the RM671 million allocated to the sports ministry under the latest budget, RM 179 million is earmarked for the preparation of the national teams for the Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics as well as the 2021 SEA Games and ASEAN Para Games..
RM 299 million is allocated for sports programmes as well as to fix and upkeep existing infrastructure. The National Football Development Plan (NFDP) saw its allocations tripled from RM 15 million to RM 45 million.
RM138 million was allocated for the Youth power Club, Malaysia Future Leaders School and volunteer initiatives while RM10 million was allocated for the development of women athletes.
There was also an allocation of RM20 million for esports development.
What does that leave for the core promotion of sports for all for the much needed sporting culture to flourish.
Sports culture is not just about supporting sports teams, but being also physically involved in sporting activities.
One need not have played a second of football in one’s life to have developed into a highly knowledgeable football fan. The benefit of sports for the nation is not in only creating superstars, or promoting glamorous sports.
A youth sporting culture is likely to lead to a healthier, more active lifestyle when children grow into adults. Therefore, plans to cultivate deeper interest is getting enough physical activity at a young age is more important than just chasing for gold medals.
A healthier nation would eventually produce a bigger pool of talented sports stars.
This may be one of the reasons why Singapore, with their better percentage of population involved in physical activities have been able to proportionally win more gold medals at the SEA Games compared to their neighbours.