Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sad state of athletics

BRUSHING shoulders with the ‘Flying Doc’ Tan Sri Dr Mani Jegathesan at the recent Asian Games in Guangzhou evoked mixed feelings about Malaysian sports.

It felt good standing beside the man who sprinted to the country’s first-ever Asian Games gold medal – in the 200m – at the 1962 Jakarta Asiad. (In the 1966 Bangkok Asiad, he won the 100m, 200m and 4x100m gold medals.)

It was also a thrill to be in his company to witness Malaysia’s current generation of athletes achieve their best-ever outing of nine gold medals in Guangzhou.

Below the bar: Pole vaulter Roslinda Samsu is one of the Malaysian athletes who failed to shine at the recent Asian Games in Guangzhou.
But his presence also exposed a harsh reality – Malaysian athletics is down in the doldrums.
In his day, Malaysian athletics was the pride of the nation, as were many other sports like football and badminton.

There were other track and field gems too, like Datuk M. Rajamani, Rabuan Pit, Ishtiaq Mubarak and Zaiton Othman, just to mention a few.

Malaysian athletics then was able to replace fading and aging stars with young and bright talent.
While Jegathesan has gone on to earn the status of a respected sports figure in the Asian region, the current athletics scene in the country has only gone downhill.

At the Aoti Main Stadium in Guangzhou, where China’s icon Liu Xiang ran an explosive race to win the 110m hurdles to the thunderous cheers of his adoring home fans, Malaysia’s Jalur Gemilang was sadly nowhere to be seen.

There were only red-faced Malaysian officials, dashed hopes and another piece of evidence of the country’s waning prowess in the blue ribband sport for the world to see.

The athletes, who are showered with all kinds of grants and assistance, are not the only one to blame.
The Malaysian Amateur Athletic Association (MAAU) need to share the blame, having failed to get their act right despite repeated meetings and brain-storming sessions in search of solutions.
And why the MAAU’s official are not doing anything concrete to restore the bruised, battered and tattered image of athletics is beyond comprehension.

Athletics is no longer as popular in schools, colleges and universities as it used to be. The only noises coming from the MAAU are ones of bitterness, bickerings and back-stabbings.

Enough said of the sad state of athletics.

Another aspect of the Guangzhou Asiad that really stood out was the presence of their volunteers.
A total of 6,000 students, ages ranging from 18-22, went out of their way to make the Asian Games a memorable one.

They endured long hours – and without pay, mind you – but their lovely faces never failed to flash the most genuine of smiles.

“It is our pleasure to help you,” was always their heartfelt and humble answer.
If only we could find such enthusiastic bunch of youngsters willing to work for free when we hold such sporting events.

Come to think of it, most of our Nationals Sports Associations (NSAs) are manned by volunteers as well.
Take Jegathesan for example. He is the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) deputy president and he was in Guangzhou heading the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) medical committee.

Volunteers like Jegathesan are a dying breed in Malaysia, where we have an aging and seriously depleting numbers of volunteers.

And those who do come to help are mostly driven by monetary returns – and not for love of the game.
Old dinosaurs still warm the seats of most NSAs while youngsters are too busy with everything else except sports, thus our dependancy on people like Jegathesan to continue managing the associations.

The National Sports Council (NSC) are expected to receive a bigger budget from the government following the success of meeting their nine-gold target in Guangzhou.

In fact, some lobbying is already taking place for Malaysia to host the 2023 Asian Games.

But rather than devoting all of the budget to the small number of elite athletes and investing on unworthy sports projects – like hosting the 2023 Asiad – the money should be pumped into unearthing new talents through grassroots development programmes.

Malaysia needs new blood – both athletes and sports officials – for a better future. The kinds that will make Jegathesan proud to pass the baton on to.
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