Where Syed Saddiq has failed

Given our dismal 55-gold medal performance at the SEA Games this year, which marks our fifth least impressive away showing since the inception of the Games, what is going on in the youth and sports ministry?

Some blame our lacklustre performance on his clear prioritisation of e-sports. But if we were to attribute sports success alone on medals, we will miss the mark, according to the results of the SEA e-sports tournaments.

Some have surmised that Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman is trying to differentiate himself from his predecessors in pushing for unconventional sports.

That is well and good, but it should not be at the expense of existing sports.

Syed Saddiq is no stranger to public disapproval — especially as of late because of his social media posts during the 2019 SEA Games. Many arguments put forth by his critics hold water.

His programmes, such as the four-tier national programme operated under the National Sports Council (NSC), do not work.

No doubt that there are structural problems left over from the Barisan Nasional government. But it is the responsibility of the Pakatan Harapan government to address them.

While proponents might point towards Syed Saddiq’s five new initiatives announced on April 23, 2019 during the National Sportsman and Sportswoman Awards as evidence of progress, let’s keep in mind that these are practically rebranded from the previous administration.

His new programme, “Pembangunan Sukan Prestasi Tinggi Negara”, which links corporate sponsors with programmes directly under his ministry, undermines existing programmes by double-dipping on the same sponsors that currently fund National Sports Associations (NSA) and community programmes.

For all the talk of sports being representative of a nation’s honour, it is surprising that Saddiq’s solution to funding issues is to rely on corporate funding instead of getting the government to pay for it.

However, when the grouses of our national athletes in securing funding becomes an increasingly regular fixture on social media, there is a problem.

Take, for example, the brouhaha when national discus thrower Muhammad Irfan Shamsuddin expressed his misgivings over the lack of vision and clarity on the part of Syed Saddiq for Malaysian sports back in January 2019.

Minor sports continue to suffer and they continue to face an all too familiar situation, where a lack of funds and incessant bureaucracy stymies efforts by the association to organise and train its athletes.

Yes, we should punish the excesses of previous sports administrators, as seen in their tendencies for mega-projects, but this should not come at the cost of our athletes.

We should not be cutting their access to funding while expecting them to help break gold tally records at international events.

Nor should we promise to meet them and hear their grouses on social media but not follow up with them when it matters the most.

There is a clear need for the prioritisation of sports science, innovative coaching and digitalisation in the administration of sports.

Syed Saddiq needs to look beyond the NSC and go to the ground, and work closely with national sports associations on not only the national level but also on the state level.

This should be your priority instead of appointing your own party members in key positions as seen in the infamous appointment of 13 PPBM Youth members as state sport coordinators and Penang PPBM information chief Yaakob Osman as head of the ministry’s corporate communications.

If Syed Saddiq is willing to take his share of the credit for our sporting successes, he should also be willing to properly support them.

It’s time to fight for the resources that our athletes need.

Subramaniam Krishnan is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.