Malaysiakini News

Sports in new M'sia: Taking politics out, putting reforms in

Steven Sim  |  Published:  |  Modified:

MP SPEAKS | On the morning of Aug 31, 2018, I watched the National Day parade on TV with a fresh sense of pride.

It was the first National Day celebration after the regime change. I saw the joy on the faces of my colleagues as they stood at the grandstand watching the parade. I am sure the feeling was profound.

My own National Day celebration was no less intense.

On the night of Aug 31, by the windy bay of the Java Sea, in the ancient Nusantara city of Jayakarta, Malaysians, including myself, who were gathered at the 2018 Asian Games sailing venue, sang Negaraku zealously as we watched the Jalur Gemilang rise by the podium. Our young sailor Mohammad Fauzi Kamanshah, only 16 years old, had won gold in the sailing open laser 4.7 event.

Sports can bring out the best in humanity. In sports, we see the camaraderie, the pursuit of excellence, and the unyielding human spirit. In our uncertain times, these are the values we desperately need.

Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah wowed the Malaysian public and perhaps charmed leaders from our neighbouring country, the Philippines, when he played a game of basketball with his counterpart from the Philippines. He called it “sports diplomacy”.

But it gets even better.

In politics, there is North Korea and South Korea; but in sports, we have a Unified Korea. And in the Asian Games 2018, the Unified Korea team won a historic gold medal as well as one silver and two bronze.

This reminds me of what must have been one of the greatest football matches in history.

The match was between England and Germany, but it was not played in the World Cup nor on regular turf.

It was played on the rugged war-torn field at the France-Belgium border when enemy soldiers declared an unofficial ceasefire on Christmas of 1914, and played a game of football. What a moment of peace and sanity in the midst of the chaos and destruction of the Great War.  

Many Malaysians can still remember fondly the memories of our ferocious Harimau Malaya as they fought hard and qualified for the 1980 Olympics. Rainbow-coloured Malaysians stood together behind our equally rainbow-coloured national team.

Making M’sia proud

From our vantage point today, where race and religion not only define us but also divide us, Soh Chin Aun, Hassan Sani, R Arumugam and the rest of the Harimaus seemed to have lived in better and saner times. They were heroic not only in their individual skills but in their ability to work as a team, as Malaysians.

For those in our generation, surely we recall the utterly Malaysian moment when every Malaysians for even a short while set aside race and religion (and political party) to cheer for Lee Chong Wei (photo) as he successfully entered the 2008 Olympic Games badminton final against China.

Despite being accustomed to insulting calls to “balik China” (go back to China), no Malaysian of Chinese descent would thought at that moment to support Lee’s opponent from China.

And boy, did Chong Wei represent all of us as proud Malaysians. No one questioned his colour nor his creed; only his capability in the court mattered.

Speaking of capability, I was at the Gelora Bung Karno hockey field in Jakarta when our boys played in the final against Japan.

It was a very intense game.

We were leading 4-1 by the second period and I was impressed by our boys’ skilful game, especially during the first half of the match.

But Japan proved to be a formidable opponent. Not only did we see a consistent show of energy from start till end, the Japanese actually upped their ante as the match moved into the second half. It was a brilliant game. We lost, but not before putting up a good fight.

Our boys, along with thousands of fans watching at the stadium in Jakarta and at home, were visibly dejected. When I spoke to them after the game, I saw one of our players, Syed Saffiq’s head was bandaged.

Like many fans, I actually thought that it was a bandana when I saw him playing. Only then I realised that it was a head wound sustained from another earlier fiery match with India, which our team won. Despite 11 stitches, Saffiq insisted to play in the final.

If ever anyone doubts the Malaysia Boleh spirit, tell that person about Saffiq.

Just hours before the hockey final, I also managed to catch our squash men’s team in action, competing in the final against Hong Kong. We did not expect a gold from this event.

After losing one set and winning another, I asked my official on the prospect of our third player Ng Eain Yow against Hong Kong gold medallist Ai Chun Ming. The answer I got: “Only 40 percent at most, it’s unlikely that we will win this one.”

But when Ng went into the court, he totally controlled the game against someone whom everyone thought was his superior.

I must admit a few times I was worried that it was just “luck” when Ng scored a point and that he would eventually make a blunder. After all, he was only a “40 percent”.

But I am glad that I was totally wrong. Ng kept his calm and managed his higher-seeded opponent with his energy and strategy till the end. He eventually won the set and the team won us our seventh gold at the 2018 Asian Games. Ng, I salute you!

Taking politics out of sports

It has now been slightly more than two months after I was sworn in as deputy youth and sports minister.

My interactions with the athletes, sports professionals, or even the fans, as well as my experience watching sporting events so close-up like I did at the 2018 Asian Games, have inspired me to work harder for the development of sports in Malaysia.

Because a new Malaysia can very much use the dividends of camaraderie, pursuit of excellence and indomitability from which we draw from our investment in sports.

I know it is not an easy task.

From day one, when my minister and I (photo) took our oaths, one of the most common comments we received was: Take politics out of sports.

I agree 101 percent, and I believe Syed Saddiq will too.

The minister himself gave the instruction to end the appointments of political leaders to sports bodies.

Yet I realised that often the problem in sports is not always “political party” politics as many would imagine. Rather, it is the politics in the sports associations, from local clubs upward to the national sport associations (NSAs).

Malaysians spoke up loud and clear to demand reform in the government on May 9, 2018. If we want to develop our sports further, reform in the government alone is not enough.

The sports associations themselves must reform. Abuse of power and corruption must be weeded out together with incompetence and inefficiency. Narrow self-interest and divisiveness must give way to common values and goals and reconciliation.

For sports associations which are divided, if we claim to love sports, reconcile! Yes, this may sound naive, especially when spoken by a newcomer like me, but didn’t we sound naive when we talked about change and reform in the government before May 9 this year?

Finally, sports associations must operate with a view to being independent and professional sports governing bodies, which are what they should be, and not behave like semi-government agencies that are highly dependent on government funding.

In a recent sports launch, I spoke about a more strategic tripartite partnership between the government, the private sector and the NSAs including in the area of funding.

But all these will eventually depend on good governance. No one will invest effort and money into a badly managed organisation. In the end, the sport will suffer. We have to reform or risk being left behind.

But do not worry; no one who genuinely wants to develop sports in Malaysia will be left to work on it alone.

Let us work together to promote the values of sports in our society, and with dedication, hard work, and some luck, fly our Jalur Gemilang high at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

STEVEN SIM is deputy youth and sports minister.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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