Sarawak mulls covering losses from axed swim meet

The Pandelela Rinong Aquatic Centre in Sarawak, which was to be the venue of the 2019 World Paralympic Swimming Championships. (Bernama pic)

KUCHING: The Sarawak government says it will provide assistance to those affected by the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) decision to bar Malaysia from hosting a swim meet which became embroiled in controversy after Putrajaya’s refusal to allow the participation of Israeli athletes.

However, Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said discussions would be held first as this was a state decision.

“The state is concerned for all those involved, and will definitely look into every aspect of this matter to decide what is best and come up with a win-win solution,” he told FMT.

This follows reports that Sarawak could lose up to RM5 million after being stripped of the right to host the 2019 World Paralympic Swimming Championships, slated to be held in July and August.

The Malaysian Association of Hotels Sarawak chapter said the hotel industry would bear the brunt of the loss, with travel agencies, restaurants, airlines and shopping centres also affected by the move.

Karim said a total of 64 countries and 1,678 athletes and officials had already confirmed their participation as of Jan 27. He said he had expected the number to soar up to 80 countries and about 2,000 athletes.

“When looking at those figures and adding on the potential revenue loss ranging from transportation to the food industry, to the income of small and medium-sized enterprises, we are being intangibly robbed of much more than what is stated,” he said.

According to Karim, Malaysia won the bid to host the event in 2017, when IPC was made to understand that there would be no resistance to competing Paralympic athletes from any country.

Sarawak was then chosen to represent the country as the host state.

“When the Pakatan Harapan government announced its stance against the participation of Israeli athletes, it also went against IPC regulations, hence the cancellation,” he said.

Adding that former youth and sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin had written the letter of support for Sarawak’s bid to host the event, he said the state government was very disappointed that it had come “to nothing”.

He claimed he had written to the new government after the May 9 polls, asking for its consent for the Israeli team to enter the country.

But until today, he added, he had received no official response.

“News of the Israeli athletics team being barred was only unofficially obtained through the media.

“Even IPC had to make its decision based on media reports after failing to get official confirmation from the Malaysian Paralympics Council,” he alleged.

Karim added that Sarawak, despite its immigration rights, would not have been able to overturn Putrajaya’s decision as it was national policy.

“However, as much as we would like the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships to be continued in Sarawak, we respect the decisions that have been made.

“The decision was made at the national level, not the state level.”

When asked about the possibility of Putrajaya compensating Sarawak, Karim said any compensation from the federal government would be welcome.

“But would we dare to expect such a possibility when all we have seen thus far from Putrajaya are project cancellations and budget cuts?”