Singapore’s success, Malaysia’s mediocrity – blame it on system, not athletes

THERE is no world badminton champion. There is no Olympic Games gold medal winner. The wait for football glory, even at regional level, continues.

Malaysia continues to languish in many sports – football, badminton, cycling, diving.

We are either depending on the same old stars or on young ones still chasing the pack, left miles behind the sports giants of the world and even from the region.

2021 has not been a good year. So, has it been the year of the Malaysian sports flops?

No, not as far as the athletes’ performances and dedication are concerned. The athletes and coaches have braved the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the risks and dangers, to give their best.

Many stood tall despite some stupid decisions made by sports administrators.

We have quality athletes, no doubt about that. We have talent. We have some darn good coaches and selfless officials, who work tirelessly and quietly, without much fanfare.

What then is the problem? Why can’t we produce champions or have a thriving development programme?

The conclusion that I like to make, like a broken record, is that we lack a workable system.

Athletes have had to stomach change after change under different administrations and like many of us, they are clueless about where Malaysian sport is headed.

We need a system that stays in place, even though we are changing sports ministers like dirty diapers.

The once highly-lauded Podium Programme has as good as collapsed.

Massive budget cuts will see many potential athletes dropped. What a waste of time, talent and resources. Then, we cry over the lack of athletes and say it’s time to go back to the grassroots.

The programme has been blamed for the failures simply because it’s easier to blame the programme than to point fingers at those who run it.

It’s time to put an end to this. We need a good system, with good leaders.

Let’s start by choosing leaders who are former athletes, who know the pulse of sports and will fight for the good of sportsmen and sportswomen, and for the good of sports.

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has former athletes as its directors. Why can’t we have people like former greats Datuk Mirnawan Nawawi (hockey), Tan Sri M. Jegathesan (athletics), Wong Choong Hann and Datuk Lee Chong Wei (badminton), Azizulhasni Awang (cycling, when he retires), Datuk Nicol David (squash), Shalin Zulkifli (bowling), Pandelela Rinong (diving, when she retires), as the top sports administrators in the country?

I’m glad that Mirnawan and Choong Hann are already involved in it.

Why don’t we even appoint our Sports Minister from this pool of former athletes or pick one from the Malaysia Olympians Association (MOA) led by former hurdler Noraseela Khalid.

Why not a non-MP when our elected politicians seem to know nuts about sports? After all, our Finance Minister, Education Minister and Religious Affairs Minister are all not elected MPs.

All we see year after year, are infightings within associations, with officials – mostly politicians – wanting to be on trips to the Olympic Games, clamouring for positions and bringing corruption and money politics into sports.

Look at the number of council members who have overstayed in the association – who will piggy ride on the success of their athletes and then become the first to blame the athletes when they fail.

Please don’t get me wrong, I know of council members who are passionate and selfless; school sports teachers who want to make changes; and state coaches who try very hard.

We have good people who can help change the current frail and inconsistent system.

I have hope, faith and belief – but it has to start with one saviour to make the difference. We can learn from others.

Look at Singapore – Penang-born shuttler Loh Kean Yew left the Malaysian system when he was 13 and joined the Singapore Sports School system, which practises meritocracy over mediocrity.

He is now Singapore’s first world badminton champion. The humility in him, the quality in him, the determination in him, plus a good system have brought reward for the small nation. Not to forget Joseph Schooling and Singapore’s first Olympics gold medal.

Meanwhile, badminton powerhouse Malaysia is still waiting.

Malaysian sport isn’t bad, it just needs some tweaking, shaking and the right balance of devoted athletes and an efficient administration. It’s not too late to make 2022 a better year.

*The writer wishes her readers Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And for those braving through floods, Covid-19 and other hard knocks in life – she prays for hope, joy and peace through it all.