The Sports Ministry last week announced the allocation of RM10 million to the national sports associations (NSA) through the 2020 Sports Concern Initiative to help those affected by Covid-19.
But unbeknownst to many, one of the richest sports associations in the country is said to have personally requested from the ministry for allocation several times that amount to run its activities.
Rumours are that the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), perhaps the association with the biggest budget in national sports, wants the government to assist with the cash “to assist in the development of football” in Malaysia.
This is not the first time that the FAM has sought government bailout. When the cigarette boys were stopped from sponsoring sports back in the 1990s, the FAM was one of the hardest hit as their main sponsor was a leading tobacco firm.
The top brass of the FAM had then publicly requested for government aid, while, ironically, conducting their council meeting at a five-star hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
The total operating expenses of the FAM in 2017 was RM 38,646,574 and it ballooned to RM49,997, 269 in 2018. With at least a couple of their top brass taking home salaries and allowances in mid and high-end five figures per month, the total amount spend on wages alone was RM16, 735, 292 in 2017 and RM18, 287,612 in 2018.
But for all the money spent, what has Malaysian football actually achieved in the last decade or so? Winning the SEA Games of ASEAN championships should not be and must not be the gauge of their sporting success.
While football is the glamour sports, followed by a wide swath of Malaysians, should football be put on a higher pedestal? More deserving sports receives much less support from the ministry and some sports struggle even to get basic programmes off the ground.
As of June, the FAM top brass have met the Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican a total of four times to discuss various issues related to football.
The FAM and its clubs are indeed facing financial difficulties but the crunch is not entirely because of the ongoing pandemic and neither is it confined only to football.
If the Ministry, as in the past, does look at football as its blue-eyed-sport and agree to allocate additional grants, it would be a disservice to sports in general.
It cannot be denied that some sports are using the Covid-19 as an excuse for their own financial mismanagement or spending beyond their capacity to bring in sponsorship.
Take a look at the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), they have been running on a deficit for a number of years that their general funds that stood at RM 18,380,777 in Jan 2016 was reduced by more than 60% by the end of 2018 with only RM6,865,588 left.
That the BAM, despite their public denial, are working furiously behind the scenes to sell off their former badminton academy property in Taman Maluri, shows they need quick injection of money to continue surviving.
The land in Taman Maluri was gifted to the BAM by the government and was rented out to a private education unit. The BAM earns close to RM2 million in rental per year from the property but that is now seen as not being enough.
The pandemic did not help their cause as they also had to continue paying salaries to their staff and coaches despite having no activities during the lockdown. When you have a couple of office staff earning more than RM20,000 in wages and their highest paid coaching staff earning almost RM80,000 per month, when the concerned coach is not even handling the senior players, it does leave a big hole in the pocket. And a bigger question on prudent spending.
With their current title sponsorship from Celcom expiring and yet to be renewed; and with their biggest star and drawing power Datuk Lee Chong Wei no longer around; it would be a herculean task for BAM to attract bigger sponsorships in the coming years.
The FAM is also expected to dispose of their current headquarters in Kelana Jaya. But the sale is being mooted to finance their new home in Putrajaya. The BAM already has its home in Bukit Kiara and are almost certain of spending the money from the sale of the Taman Maluri property to substantiate their loss of income.
These are just two instances of sports associations that have grown too big for their own good. Without better financial stability sports associations must look into ways to continually develop and promote the game without being overly ambitious.
The government has tried numerous ways to help sports associations in the past, but have also allowed the culture of dependence to fester with their policies in the past.
The Rakan Sukan scheme back in the 1990s, while it had its merit, also allowed sports associations to be lackadaisical in their attitude towards positioning themselves better to draw sponsorship. Instead of building their brand to attract sponsors, they were handed easy money and asked to build their brand as an afterthought. Very few associations managed to do that successfully with almost all their partnerships being terminated after a number of years.
The Sports Ministry’s plan to boost sports as an industry has also not taken off as it should. Without strong leadership backed by a more professional set-up, sports associations will continue to look towards the government for financial assistance at the first sign of problem.
While the RM10 million the ministry has allocated for the sports associations post-Covid may seem pittance for the so-called bigger associations, it is a timely injection for the smaller and under appreciated sports organisations.
But the allocations must not be made purely on looking at the paperwork submitted but on what activities the associations have actually conducted. Many associations are exemplary at doing paperwork to look for funds but hardly do anything in actual implementation of development projects.
There are many sports that continually do well at the international level but receive very little government financial assistance. One good example was the Malaysian dodgeball team that struggled to find the resources to take part at the world championships despite being a top ranked contender, with excellent track record.
Sports is just not about the glamour sports. The government must divert their attention from short term popularity in winning medals, by concentrating on the development of grassroot sports and also assisting non-glamour sports in their endeavours.
The Netherlands government recently allocated €110m (RM529m) to ensure their 22,000 sports associations at all levels were able to restart their sports programmes. It clearly shows that the Dutch, who have produced world beaters in so many different sports, have their priorities locked in.
And just to conclude with a note of interest, Indian sports associations recently pooled together a sum of ₹ 2 crore (RM1.13m) and handed over the sum to their sports minister to help with the fight against Covid-19.
Where are we?