Malaysia’s obsolete sports system forces us to celebrate mediocrity

Malaysia’s obsolete sports system forces us to celebrate mediocrity
"Malaysia’s obsolete sports system forces us to celebrate mediocrity"

The power of sport is not to be taken lightly. Irrespective of whether one knows sport or not, it can make a person deliriously drunk in endorphins and lose all sense of reality watching it.

It plays on a person’s hope. Every sports marketer worth their salt, would understand and work on this for their marketing campaign; a sense of belief is the bedrock that drives and solidifies hope.

Malaysians have been on the roller coaster of belief and hope for many decades supporting the country on the global sporting stage. The latest was the spirited display by our football heroes against South Korea at the recent AFC Asian Cup 2023 (not a typo, it is being played in 2024!). As endorphin junkies, fans are all looking for the next fix via our nation’s best, competing in badminton, football, squash, hockey, etc.

Fans can also hope that the sporting system, inherited from the British, goes through a major transformation. In this obsolete amateur system, the Malaysian government is being forced to carry the burden of developing sports, almost single-handedly – from the talent identification stage by the Education Ministry, to nurturing high-performance athletes by the Youth and Sports Ministry. The source of funds from the government is strained, but demand for financing is ever-increasing to meet the future needs of high-performance preparation.

The current system has seen the government continuously funding Malaysian sports, especially the national sports associations, for over five decades. In the last two decades or so, some of the funding has led to queries as to why money is being spent in a certain manner. More specifically, why are we “celebrating mediocrity”?

Everyone wants their sport to succeed; as many of them as possible. Unfortunately, the government has the impossible duty to balance hope and economics within the confines of an obsolete system.

Transformational liberalisation of sports

Hannah Yeoh is not the first, and will not be the last, youth and sports minister in Malaysia to make special financial injections into football, or any other sport, for as long as the sporting system is such. She has taken the best path to a solution under the current circumstance, with the best intent.

She has been listening, deliberating, and assiduously working to ensure our sport succeeds. Yeoh also has the wisdom to discern the golden opportunity of liberalising our sport to make it more accessible to all Malaysians.

Numerous push and pull policies have been implemented, including opening up government facilities for school sports days, to matching grants for sports events, and tax relief for training. These are policies that will address the long-overlooked household and private side of sports, over and above the current system of mainly government-funded development pathway.

Such policies should align and channel more funding into Malaysia’s sports system without much government spending. If every household (7.9 million in 2022 according to the Statistics Department) were to spend up to RM1,000 in sports, inclusive of training fees, there would be RM7.9 billion spent on sports by the general public, annually.

This is a major catalyst for the sport industry and sport development. The general public from each household will spend on training from certified coaches utilising sporting facilities.

Sports equipment and apparel demand will also increase as a result. More competitions can be held, which will drive up demand for all other support products and services, like events management, sports medicine, nutrition-related, sports technology, marketing, legal, and others. The burden of government funding for the development of sport at the grassroots level will also be relieved, whilst enlarging the pool.

The transformation has been activated by channelling household income into sports at the grassroots and community levels. In 2008, a report by The Expert Group on Sustainable Financing of Sport in the European Union, found more than half of the total sources of funds for sport came from Europe’s households. This pattern would be similar to many countries, including Malaysia.

The tax relief of RM1,000 is one of those game-changing policies that will have a long gestation period where we will only see its benefits tens of years later. However, it is a critical milestone.

Yeoh has unlocked private funding and energised private participation in Malaysian sports at the grassroots and community level; this will drive up sporting participation without additional government funding. This is her coup de maître.

The golden conundrum

Paris 2024 could see Malaysia’s very first Olympic gold medal. What happens after we win this? Would it be business as usual? Should there be a major overhaul in either the development programmes or the system, if we fail to secure any medals?

Whether we win or not, the system of sport in the country is still the same and it needs a major overhaul in commercialisation, sports technology, data analytics and, medicine and science.

Time and again, sports fans across the globe have demonstrated a strong affinity for their “tribe”. Barring a major scandal or lack of publicity, Malaysian fans will continue to support their heroes.

It is the powerful effect of sport and it will not stop. Further transformation of Malaysian sport will help its fans get their next fix in the future.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of Twentytwo13.

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