August 13, 2012
It is Time to Hold Our Sports Officials to Account
by Tan Siok Choo@http://www.thesundaily.com
In recent months, some notable decisions were irrational, if not ludicrous. One example was allowing our strongest Olympic gold medal contender, Dato’ Lee Chong Wei, to take part in the Thomas Cup.
Given that the Thomas Cup is a team event and Malaysia’s chances of winning this year were poor, was it worth jeopardising Chong Wei’s bid to win the country’s first gold medal in the Olympics for a non-achievable victory?
He seriously injured his ankle at the event held in late May. Despite a shortened training period, Chong Wei won the first game against gold medallist Lin Dan and lost by just two points in the third deciding game in the finals.
This raises one poignant question: could Chong Wei have won a gold medal if he hadn’t been injured?That 29-year-old Chong Wei is now being asked to consider competing at the next Olympics in 2016 also highlights another issue – the near-total lack of succession planning in sports.
In contrast, China’s Chen Long who won the bronze medal and has often been touted as Lin Dan’s successor is only 20 years old.
Malaysia’s lack of a pipeline of world-class sports individuals is due to officials’ over-emphasis on short-term gains at the expense of long-term growth.
For example, instead of awarding wild cards to promising individuals for the London Olympics, less credible criteria appear to have been used. As Head of Mission Tun Ahmad Sarji said “there is no point sending an athlete who is almost at the end of his or her career.”
Another example of misplaced priorities was the refusal by state officials from Kedah, Negri Sembilan, Penang, Selangor and Terengganu to allow their athletes to take part at the World Junior championships in Barcelona.
Their refusal stemmed from the fact the date of the global under-19 meet clashed with that of Sukan Malaysia (Sukma) held in Kuantan last month.
What is the rationale for giving priority to a national event held every year over a global event that would have provided excellent exposure for young athletes?
That America’s 17-year-old Missy Franklin and China’s 16-year-old Ye Shiwen won gold medals in swimming in the Olympics emphasises the fact that youth is increasingly an asset in global sporting achievement.
Admittedly, not all officials deserve to be rated below investment grade. In London, Pandelela Rinong won a bronze in diving – the first Olympic medal for the sport and the first won by a Malaysian woman. That she is only 19 years old means she can be a contender for the 2016 Olympics.
Like Chong Wei, Pandelela exhibited steely determination to fight and win the bronze medal after her first dive relegated her to 10th position among 12 contenders.
Pandelela’s success also suggests the official tendency to often short-change women in terms of funding, foreign coaching and participation in overseas meets is both myopic and self-defeating.
That Malaysia’s divers also won medals at the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and world championships is due to the decision by the Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia and the National Sports Council to hire a foreigner as coach – Yang Zhuliang from China.
Yang’s success in diving’s prompts the question whether badminton – where coaches like Morten Frost Hansen (left), Fang Kaixiang and Rexy Mainaky left in unhappy circumstances – would have done significantly better if foreign coaches had been given the same clout over players as Manchester United’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson rather than treated like disposable cutlery.
Although squash isn’t an Olympic event, Dato’ Nicol David has dominated the sports. Her longevity as the world number one is a tribute to her undeniable talent and single-mindedness in achieving global success.
However, even gifted individuals require good coaching and early exposure in the international arena. Nicol was a double world junior champion. At 23, she became the youngest world number one in January 2006.
Going forward, top sports officials should undertake a cost-benefit analysis of their financial support for sports associations. Future allocations should be based on results achieved per capita.
If 10 divers, trained by one foreign coach, won one bronze in the Olympics, then diving deserves a bigger allocation than other sports.
After the badminton final in London, Chong Wei apologised for his failure to win a gold medal. Chong Wei’s apology wasn’t necessary. It is Malaysia which owes Chong Wei and other sports personalities an apology – for allowing officials unfettered discretion to mismanage their charges and their sports.
Opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the writer and should not be attributed to any other organisation she is connected with. She can be contacted at email@example.com