If Malaysian sport was likened to a terminal disease, it would most likely be gliomas, a malignant type of brain tumour which requires a combination of treatments that include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
But the cancerous tumour in Malaysian sport has only one cure, and it is all in the seemingly clinical hands of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. For what the cure demands is a strong political will to make sport a part of the national agenda. There is no other way.
Let’s stop pretending that there are other known cures for this disease, and that there are “healers” out there who can miraculously transform Malaysian sport into a marketable and successful product.
Trust me, we have tried just about everything over the past decades, and while sports ministers and prime ministers have come and gone, failure has been the only inherent and consistent outcome.
And the last place we should look for a cure is the National Sports Council (NSC), which tragically is where failure took root decades ago and spread swiftly through the sports fraternity, like a malignant tumour.
Calibre sports administrators like Sidique Merican, Wan Ahmad Radzi and Mazlan Ahmad – directors-general of the NSC from the 70s to the 90s – have become an extinct species, replaced only by mediocre leaders.
Unfortunately, this calamitous state is not just prevalent in sports, but in just about every significant facet of Malaysia’s civil service that is governed by inept and corrupt administrators who believe it is their birthright to govern.
Sidique, Wan Ahmad and Mazlan were not only competitive sportsmen, but during their tenures also had the good sense to surround themselves with some of the best minds in sports, from all races.
The existing systemic racist policies were not able to burrow their way into what was then a highly meritocratic structure. That was mainly because sport was our national pride, it was our offering to the world. And it did not matter who fashioned it or made it work, as long as the job was done, and the country was its beneficiary.
But enough of the griping and the bellyaching. Let’s get down to business, Mr Prime Minister – the business of sports, that is, sir.
Sports is big business, a multi-billion-ringgit industry. And what Malaysia has tapped from it so far is just a drop in the ocean. Its potential is huge: television rights, team sponsorships, merchandising, advertising, sports equipment, ticketing, infrastructure, and what have you.
All these areas combined have made sports a major economic sector in most developed and developing countries.
Surely the PM can see that success in sports will help develop a marketable brand and renew confidence in the face of the shrinking ringgit, declining human rights ratings, an unappealing ecosystem for foreign investments, and academic disaster, that have all but thrust Malaysia closer to its doom.
The cure? Corporatisation of sports. Call it Malaysia Sports Inc, if you want, since taglines have become fashionable in modern societies. Give it a Malay name, since Anwar is a strong protagonist of Bahasa Malaysia.
If we want to compete with the best in the world, we have to be with the best. We cannot hope to soar with eagles when we are still flying with turkeys – unless, of course, we are content with hovering over the lower branches and pretending to have achieved high altitudes. For the eagle-spirited, turkeys only make for great adornment in Christmas dinner menus.
I do not have the blueprint for Malaysia Sports Inc, but I know that after failing to reach the lofty altitudes attained by eagles, we need to put the success of Malaysian sport in the hands of corporate people.
To the corporate sector that is highly profit-driven with success being everything, failure is not even a remote option.
With that as their mantra, you can be assured that recruitment will be based on merit, strategies will be meticulously planned to precision, and the execution of plans will be in full throttle. That is because their very survival depends on planning and judicious spending.
But for this to materialise, two things need to happen. One, there needs to be an instruction from the PM to direct corporate companies, especially GLCs, to get into the game. Two, there has to be enough incentives, like mega tax reliefs, for these companies to even contemplate corporatising sports. It has to be financially viable.
In Europe and in the US, the corporate sector is immersed in the sports business because of these huge tax incentives. The Glazers, for instance, the owners of English Premier League club, Manchester United, do not feel the pinch because they offset their investment cost through tax incentives back in the US.
Speaking of football, perhaps the corporate boys like Vincent Tan and Tony Fernandes, who have dabbled with Cardiff City and Queens Park Rangers respectively, could be tempted to invest in the Malaysian Super League, if it is financially viable.
Although it has been decades since the Malaysian game was accorded professional status by the FA of Malaysia, its handlers have struggled to keep pace with the growing demands of the professional game. Several clubs have not been able to pay salaries to both players and staff.
With the exception of Tunku Mahkota Johor’s JDT, and Selangor, who seem to have access to large amounts of funds, the other owners have struggled to keep their clubs in the league. They have also had to compete with cash-rich clubs like JDT, where the lure of opulent salaries has been a big challenge.
But that’s another story, for another day.
Today, the story is that Malaysian sport will not get any higher on its existing structure, not with the NSC, the main funders of national associations, dictating terms.
The story is for corporations to fund and manage, and national associations to be left to their own devices, to develop their respective sports.
The tumour needs to be removed, and the treatment needs to start soon.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.