Women’s right to choose and minorities’ fight for equal rights have been major issues in the USA for many years and more so in recent times. Predominantly male lawmakers have been disregarding women’s rights in their healthcare policymaking. And an equally predominant white lawmakers have been deciding on the rights of the coloured minority in the country.
This is what happens when a self-proclaimed elite minority believe that they have the divine right to not only decide on issues they are ill-equipped but also beyond their own capabilities.
It is not very different in how sports is being managed in Malaysia with both the government agencies and the umbrella bodies looking to assert their unfair stranglehold over sports in the country. Just like the American men, who think they know women’s body better than the women themselves, many in the Malaysian sports fraternity also believe they know better about sports specifics than the actual experts and rights holders.
Over the past few days, two separate bodies are now trying to control the narrative that they are the legitimate body to develop elite athletes in the country. Both are blatantly disregarding the rights of the respective National Sports Associations (NSA) and trying give themselves powers that they do not possess in the first place.
Using the excuse that Malaysia needs to win an Olympic gold medal quickly, both the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) and the National Sports Council (NSC) [in this case including the National Sports Institute (ISN)] believe that they are the rightful and capable party for the task.
Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu said that the NSC would continue to do so at the moment but added that the matter to hand over the elite development to the OCM was being discussed so as to realise the dream of achieving the country’s first Olympic gold medal.
The gung-ho attitude that the end justifies the means, is seeing Malaysian sports unable to reach greater heights despite millions of public ringgit being poured in.
The fact is that neither the OCM nor any government agency should be involved in the development of athletes at the elite level. That is the role of the respective NSAs.
The NSC had already usurped the role of the NSA’s in elite development, in many cases with the NSA’s having almost no say on how elite development should be managed.
The NSC was formed back in 1971 as a body to facilitate sports at all levels by supporting the legitimate programmes conducted by the respective NSAs.
However, over the years, they have slowly encroached into the governing powers of a growing number of NSA’s. Over the years the implementation of the NSC Act together with the Sports Development Act have also crippled the proper running and the capacities of NSA’s.
The over-reliance of the government funding by the NSAs under the pretense of an amateur system is no longer valid in today’s high performance sporting eco-system.
While the government has all the right to dictate on a professional management of any NSA, the authority to govern any sport is never theirs and will never be. The supreme governing body for the sports are the International Sports (IS) bodies and they delegate their authority to their respective member NSAs.
For example, in case of a Malaysian athlete under the Podium programme being caught for doping or any other indiscretion, the NSC would not be penalised. Even if the NSA concerned has zero say on all aspects of the concerned athlete’s training programme, it is the NSA that has to take the blame and not the NSC or any other agencies.
Similarly when Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli was stripped of a gold medal and world record at the Tokyo Paralympics, no one from the NSC or the ISN, who were in Tokyo could be seen as responsible even if they are proven to be guilty of any indiscretion. That blame would be shouldered by entirely the NSA and in this case also the Paralympic Council of Malaysia (PCM).
Leaving this aside, it cannot be denied that if winning an Olympic gold is the standard of success, the NSC has failed in its task. But after having channeled billions of RM over the past few decades into the agencies’ coffers, should the Sports Ministry look to take another unproven path by handing over the task to the OCM?
The OCM is only an umbrella body for sports that are involved in multi sports events and certainly are not a body entrusted to handle elite development even by their own constitution.
Under the National Sports Act of 1971, Section 5 (b) outlines that OCM nominates three representatives to sit in the NSC council. So if the NSC had failed, should that not also reflect on the OCM representatives’ role in the council?
OCM secretary-general Datuk Mohd Nazifuddin Najib said that they were in the midst of discussion, regarding capability and funding of a possible takeover.
Let us look at the capability part first. Like the NSC, the OCM has to look at its own members to provide the expertise. Their key office bearers come from sports ranging from badminton, football, athletics, karate, hockey, silat, rugby etc. Leaving the Olympics aside, how many world champions have these sports themselves delivered.
How impartial will the OCM be seen in dispensing funds for elite development programmes?
This is just an exercise in futility, transferring the job from one party that has already invested millions for the job to another, who may now be asking for more millions to restart the same thing from scratch.
By handing over the job to OCM, what would happen to all the staff and “experts” hired by the NSC? Will they be jobless, transferred to other government agencies or go into the private sector, namely with the OCM? Or would they be seconded to the OCM with the government still paying their salaries?
Who would take over the management of the facilities currently being handled by the NSC? Would the OCM quietly look for government fundings to build new facilities.
And it also does not make any sense that the OCM is proposing to take over only the Olympic programme and want to wash their hands in the preparation of other multi-sports events including the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the SEA Games.
What makes the OCM uniquely capable of only handling the Olympics instead of all the other multi-sports if they are seriously concerned about Malaysian sport supremacy? Or is it just a case of chasing for glamour under the pretense of an elusive gold?
Or is it just another scheme to get more public funding to start a completely new set-up? To put in context, the United States Olympics Committee (USOC) does run the high performance programme using their own facilities. But USOC does not get a single cent funding from the government. Instead they rely on donations and strong commercial programmes, initiated by their own committees. Is the OCM ready to do the same without asking for government fundings?
Malaysia’s failure in getting an Olympic gold at the Olympics is never about who is in the driver’s seat, but in how it is run.
We are chasing for that one elusive gold medal instead of setting a system that would help Malaysia consistently win gold medals at the Olympics.
We are using large resources to fund a very limited number of athletes to bring home the single gold medal. The recent achievement of Datuk Azizul Asni Awang at the Tokyo Olympics was a prime example of focusing on just a couple of cyclists to bring that gold while powerhouses United Kingdom looks into a whole ecosystem to bring home many medals consistently at every recent Olympics.
Development of elite sports is more than just the Olympics or multi sports. Each sports has its own championships and the stakeholders must also look at these tournaments.
Despite not being in the Olympics, Shalin Zulkifli (bowling) and Dato Nicol David (squash) are world beaters and respected in their own sports. We also have world ranked athletes in non-Olympic sports including wushu, dodgeball, silambam and many other sports.
Is a single Olympic medal worth more than the eight world championship titles Nicol had won. Or is it worth more than the world wushu titles won by Chuah Shangyang and Tan Cheong Min at the last championships.
Is Olympics the one and all, and other sporting achievements now considered second class?
To be fair the NSC, despite their setbacks, is looking after sports at many levels. But for the OCM wanting to take just the icing on the cake is alarming and downright questionable. Bear in mind that the same OCM office-bearers also double up as Commonwealth Games Association of Malaysia office bearers.
Having invested heavily financially as well as structure, facilities and workforce, it should be unthinkable to take the NSC out of the equation now, just to appease a select few.
What is needed is to let the respective associations shoulder bigger responsibility in not only creating a bigger pool of world beaters but also the major role in the charting the chase for the gold. This should include hiring and firing coaches.
The NSC should let the NSA’s come up with a more holistic elite athlete plan and assist them with what is needed, financially and facilities wise. The concept that when we give the money, we must have total control needs to be discarded. Capacity building in administration and fund raising must be given emphasis instead, something that the NSC itself is lacking now..
The Golden Rule that “whoever has the gold makes the rules“, should not be mantra for the Ministry or its agencies any longer.
The OCM should concentrate in helping their members to be more professionally managed. It is not the role of the OCM to prepare athletes and the Sports Ministry should not even be looking at this option.
The system we have is catered to leaving the engine room of sports rot away and only looking at options to beautify the outer image.
The current scenario in Malaysia has failed because the respective entities have refused to play the role needed by them.
Failed NSA’s are not going to help Malaysian sports in the long run. The idea of the OCM taking over the role of the NSC at the top is just a knee-jerk reaction.
We may win a gold medal in Paris or in Los Angeles, but that should not be considered the ultimate in Malaysian sporting success. It is just the law of averages coming to fruition.
While the current system of the NSC having a stranglehold on the NSA’s is not an ideal scenario, that alone should not disqualify their important role in Malaysian sports.
What is needed is for the Sports Ministry to relook at the roles of the NSC, NSAs, the OCM and other relevant stakeholders.
We need to improve the system to make it better, not to overhaul it to make it equally bad or worse.