Athletes’ welfare foundation tells why it’s hard to find new blood

Badminton ace Lee Chong Wei announcing his retirement at a press conference in Putrajaya last week.

KUCHING: The National Athletes Welfare Foundation (Yakeb) has highlighted the need to identify and groom future athletes to represent the country, acknowledging however difficulties such as limited resources and coaches who are reluctant to “let go”.

Speaking to FMT, Yakeb general manager Zuhairi Abdul Manaf said as athletes develop, they require coaches who match their skills and are capable of preparing them for competition at increasingly higher levels.

He said the problem lies with coaches who refuse to release those they had trained, either because they want to share in their fame or for sentimental reasons.

“Coaches who fight over athletes will only hinder their development in sports, causing some to give up halfway through and making it more difficult to get substitutes for former national athletes,” he said.

Zuhairi also cautioned that sports associations, with their limited funds, cannot be held solely responsible for identifying new athletes.

He said all parties, from parents and schools to coaches and associations, should play a role in finding new blood.

“There must be a specific formula to identify and groom them at the grassroots level because we don’t have many qualified athletes competing in the Olympics,” he added.

Zuhairi’s comments come about a week after national badminton ace Lee Chong Wei announced his retirement following a 19-year career which saw him bring home an Olympic silver medal three times.

Zuhairi said Malaysia is not the only country having trouble replacing national athletes who retire.

“This happens in other countries as well, for example Indonesia.

“It takes time. Badminton men’s singles head coach Misbun Sidek was right when he said it would take us maybe five to 15 years to produce another Chong Wei, because athletes need to be trained from an early age.”

Even so, he added, it is not easy to find qualified athletes.

“Just because they competed in the SEA Games before doesn’t mean that they are capable of competing at a higher level.”

He called for greater efforts to identify new athletes, saying Malaysia cannot afford to depend on only one or two.

He gave the example of retired bowler Shalin Zulkifli whom he said is still called to represent Malaysia sometimes in international competitions.

“This proves that we don’t have many qualified athletes competing in international sports competitions,” he said.

He said this is where former national athletes could also help, by coming forward to assist in identifying and grooming new talents and passing on their skills and experience.