Mid Term Review of the Podium Program.

By Dato Sieh Kok Chi

I am sure that most Malaysians are aware that Malaysia has won 6 Olympic Games silver medals and 2 bronze medals in Badminton, one silver and one bronze medal in Diving and one bronze medal in Track Cycling, since the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.  Unfortunately, Malaysia has yet to win its first Olympic Games gold medal. On the other hand, Malaysia’s neighbours, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have already won Olympic Games gold medals. This, it has always been the top priority of Malaysia to win its first Olympic Games gold medal.

The former Minister of Youth and Sports Malaysia, YB Encik Khairy Jamaluddin made it his target to win Malaysia’s first gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In November 2014, the Minister commissioned a team of Australian experts to study and plan a strategy to win Malaysia’s first Olympic gold medal. As a result, the Podium Program was established and launched with great fanfare on Tuesday, 2nd February 2016. The Star Online reported in part as follows: “On Tuesday, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin launched the programme with the aim of winning Malaysia’s first-ever Olympic gold in Tokyo in 2020. The ambitious programme will involve 97 athletes and 36 coaches from 21 sports. All in, the Government will spend RM75mil this year.”

Later at an official briefing by the then CEO of ISN, Dato’ Dr. Ramlan Abd. Aziz, the Programme Targets were officially announced as follow: GOLD – 2020 Olympics, Tokyo,

Top 10 finish in Asian Games, Top 10 finish in Commonwealth Games, 10 athletes in World Top 6 ranking (KBS KPI). No explanation was given for the above, as it is obvious that the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games are totally different from the Olympic Games. By the inclusion of the two Games, the Podium Program, in my opinion, lost its main focus.

Lack of discussion and consultation

In the 50s and 60s, before the Ministry of Youth and Sports (KBS) and the National Sports Council (MSN) was formed, sports was a public property and the people’s activities. The KBS and MSN were formed for the purpose of assisting and supporting the people in sports development, with certain supervisory powers on the use of government funds. Later the support and supervision became control and now it has become ownership.

From my personal experience, the government sports officials have become so powerful that they do not take alternate ideas and views kindly, because they believe that if one is not with them, then one must be against them. Take the invitations to the Podium Program Post Mortem Workshop for example, why are only some favoured few invited and not others?  So to me, the first change to the mind set of government sports officials, is discard their desire for ownership of sports. No where in the world is there such practice, although many have tried but none have succeeded. Just because government funds are being used to support sports development, does not mean that government sports officials have bought sports and now own sport. There should be more discussion, consultation, transparency, less wastage.

Asian Games and Commonwealth Games

There should be a separate programme for the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. The reason for this is that there are so many non-Olympic Games programme sports in the above two Games, especially the Asian Games, that they caused lots of distractions and confusion to the athletes and the sports officials. Even in some Olympic Games programme sports, included in the Asian Games programme, there are events that are not Olympic Games events, such as Compound Bows in Archery as well as in Sailing, for example. As for the Commonwealth Games, there are Olympic Games sports, such as Badminton, Shooting, Weightlifting, with low standards that winning a gold medal in these sports will not guarantee even a bronze medal at the Asian Games or to qualify for the Olympic Games.

No one really understood for the inclusion of the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games as targets 2 and 3. Malaysia has always achieved good results in some non-Olympic Games programme sports, such as Bowling, Squash, Sepaktakraw, Lawn Bowls, Wushu, but how well Malaysia fare in these sports in the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games would not help Malaysia to win a gold medal in Tokyo 2020.

Number of athletes and officials

The then Minister of Youth and Sports on Tuesday, February 2, 2016, announced that 97 athletes and 36 coaches from 21 sports have been identified for inclusion to the Podium Program. From past statistics, all the countries that won gold medals in past Olympic Games, from the SEA Region as well as Hong Kong and Mongolia, were all from not more than 3 sports, certainly not 21 sports. For example, to date, Thailand has won 9 gold medals, 8 silver, 16 bronze medals from only 3 sports, Weightlifting, Boxing and Taekwondo, with gold medals from only Weightlifting and Boxing. Similarly, Indonesia has won 7 gold medals, all from Badminton with Archery contributing 1 silver medal, Weightlifting contributing 6 silver medals and 6 bronze medals and Badminton again contributing another 6 silver and 6 bronze medals. The situation is the same with Singapore (3 sports), Vietnam (3 sports) and also Malaysia, from Badminton, Cycling and Diving. In fact, for London 2012, Singapore was concentrating only on one sport, Table Tennis, and won 2 bronze medals.

Why no development of fresh young talents?

The selection of athletes into the Podium Program was very strict. As such, most, if not all those selected are either existing Olympic Games medallists, or established champions. I supposed the training or development of potential medallist is not part of the objective. Take Badminton for example, during the past 4 to 5 years, Indonesia has managed to produced World ranked Badminton players such as singles players Jonatan Christie, Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, both in their early 20s, and doubles pairs Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Rian Ardianto and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo. Except for Marcus Fernakdi Gidoen who is in his late 20s, the others are all, again, in their early 20s. What is BAM doing? Amongst other things, BAM is waiting for Datuk Wira Lee Chong Wei to return at the end of the year, as reported in the media.

Has the Podium Program done or assisted or advised in anything like what the Indonesian Badminton has done. Perhaps they have, but again perhaps it is not in their terms of reference. As for me, no news is not good news.

Conclusion

At the moment, the chances of Malaysia achieving its dream of winning its first Olympic Games gold medal in Tokyo 2020, are rather bleak. I hope and pray I shall be proven wrong.

Under the PH Government, I have high hope that there will be changes. Unfortunately, the changes are slow in coming. Being old, I guess it is my fault for being so impatient. For past Games, I have written post mortem reports, such as those for the 2014 Asian and Commonwealth Games as well as others. This is my first report to be published in my FB. If I have made any mistakes, I apologise and stand to be corrected because what I have written are based on the information available to me.