Is RM107 million enough for the Sports Ministry to reinstate all the national elite athletes dropped from the Podium programme?
Can the sum also cover the deduction of salaries of the “lucky” athletes retained in the programme?
The answer to both questions is a big fat yes and with some spare change too.
The National Sports Council (NSC) had recently disclosed that 184 of the 432 elite able-bodied athletes have been cut from the full-time national programme this year while the number of elite para-athletes, also slashed to 45 from 114 last year.
With budget cuts, the NSC also suddenly found that their recent salary scheme was unfair and had reverted to a lower scheme from pre-2018.
And where exactly can the NSC get the RM107 million, that could help rectify the injustice that many of these athletes have to endure?
Let us go back to March 2016 when the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Agency detained a division secretary of the Sports Ministry after being suspected of masterminding a syndicate to embezzle RM107 million in government funds.
The then Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin was quick to act and transfer the officer concerned out of the Ministry.
The matter was supposed to have been referred to the courts, but no news of what has transpired. Did the authorities ever recovered the RM107 million that went missing?
Let’s do the math. If the RM107 million is still available, every single athlete in the original podium programme could have been paid close to RM200,000 each per year compared to the measly RM800 per month some of them are going to receive now.
If the mean allowances paid to the athletes is only RM2,000 per month and the sum doubled with the cost of board and lodging and other expenses factored in, than the RM107 million could have been used to pay a total of 2,229 athletes per year.
Instead, Malaysians are still in the dark with what happened with the embezzled sum and whatever happened to the guilty official.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg with a number of more financial scandals involving sports still unresolved.
In in 2008, RM3.8 million of the Paralympic Council of Malaysia (PCM)’s funds were used for unapproved investments by it’s president, Datuk Zainal Abidin Abu Zarin. This was done through a company called Paralimpik Ventures which Datuk Zainal and his two sons are majority shareholders.
The funds channeled to a company in the US; became “irrecoverable” and the PCM were unable to contact the US company. The amount was initially written off the MPC’s accounts to cover the loss, but some committee members decided to run their own investigations and concluded that it was a bad debt, meaning that it will remain in their accounts till the money’s returned.
It led to a MACC investigation and the suspension of Datuk Zainal, but the money has yet to be fully recovered.
How about when a top official of the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) was also picked up for corruption? Nothing has been since heard of that either.
Are all these cases labelled as “No Further Action” (NFA) just as the case of attempted bribery of Indonesia’s badminton ace Taufik Hidayat late last year. This despite the fact that Datuk Lee Chong Wei himself admitting that he knew the identity of the Malaysian perpetrator in the bribery attempt.
Corruption and mismanagement are at the heart of the current crisis of the inability of the Malaysian authorities to be fair to the athletes.
It is just not about being allocated the required budget by the Finance Ministry, while in itself it turned out to be the biggest factor in the current crisis.
The Podium programme itself was so badly managed by the National Sports Institute (ISN) previously that the Sports Ministry’s Chief Secretary had to step in to clean up the financial mess.
One senior sports administrator had this to say: “We need to take a closer look at how the funds for the Podium programme are being spent. Funds are being spent sometimes without proper plans or accountability.”
In his tweet former national swimming coach Christian Brooker said: “Money get prioritised by what executives thinks will look ‘cool’ for public perception instead of asking coaches and athletes what they need.”
This underlines exactly what ails Malaysian sports when the powers to be, live by the adage “He who holds the gold makes the rules”.
Mismanagement of funds meant for our national athletes is not a new phenomenon.
It is an open secret of how one former Sports Minister, left the NSC coffers almost empty with lavish activities that hardly made an impact on Malaysian sports.
Or of another Sports Minister, who had directed the NSC to use its funds to create grassroot activities in the run-up to the General Elections. The funds were supposed to be replenished after the election, but came to a naught when the elections results did not favour his party.
The Sports Ministry had in the past decried the inability of national sports association’s (NSA) inability to market themselves and find private fundings to carry out their activities, instead of relying on government handouts. It is still the same scenario.
But, to be fair the NSC itself had hired and external agency to look for new sponsorships and had received approximately RM100m over the years in external sponsorship.
But their biggest asset, the Team Mas branding, is now languishing untapped due to internal strife.
This is the biggest intellectual property (IP) that if managed properly can reap in huge sponsorships to offset any reductions in government aid.
Common sense would say that the Team Mas branding should be owned and managed by the NSC. Instead, the IP is owned by the ISN, whose job is to look after the scientific aspect of sports instead of marketing and sponsorship.
Both entities, despite sharing the same address, are unable to come to terms on how to manage it for the benefit of Malaysian sports. If NSA’s are guilty of not marketing themselves, the Ministry’s agencies are committing cardinal sin.
Let us no blame the pandemic in its entirety, when the agencies concerned have failed to plan. Very much like everything else the nation is experiencing now, even in sports we are only planning to fail. And the biggest victims are the athletes themselves.