The story of sports in Malaysia is often ignored, and I feel there is much about it that needs telling. It makes a broad and exciting tale.
My minister and I came to helm the Youth and Sports Ministry in July 2018 on the heels of a disappointing performance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. The Malaysian contingent failed to meet the Top 10 Best Finish target set earlier.
If the story of sports ends at the podium, it then becomes an easy matter of blaming individual athletes or coaches, or even the government, for failures at competitions.
But in the past eight months, as I learned more and more about the story of sports in Malaysia, I am amazed at the diverse characters involved in it, and the incredible feats they perform.
Think about Dr Yeo Wee Kian, for example, the in-house scientist at the National Sports Institute (ISN) who is working on several cutting-edge research projects on metabolic syndrome and healthy ageing through studying how athletes’ performance in the field can be improved. One of the potentials that can stem from Yeo’s work includes exercise and associated strategies to alleviate conditions such as insulin resistance, diabetes and perhaps even cancer.
And then there is Dr Rebecca Wong, head psychologist at ISN. She designed a method to assess the level of mental focus in athletes. Through a simple assessment, she is able to advise athletes and coaches whether an athlete is at his or her optimal focus for an upcoming tournament. I am also amazed at how she has innovated and employed marriage therapy to work on building better relationships and communication between our national badminton mixed-double Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying, who eventually won us a silver medal in the 2016 Olympic Games. Breakthroughs from this adaptation can in turn be applied the other way, and help improve existing marriage therapy.
Biomechanical engineer Yuvaraj, who recently completed his postgraduate dissertation at the University of Malaya, has successfully identified and scientifically calculated factors that produce the most effective “smash” by a badminton player. Works such as his and his team to understand biomechanics – how human bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons work together – to optimise the movements of our athletes can eventually contribute to enhancing mobility in the aged or even persons with disability.
The nutritionists who assist athletes in their weight adjustment programmes use advanced scientific methods to produce desired weight gain or weight loss without adversely affecting overall health, especially muscle condition. Think what the potential of such a programme holds in a country where half of our population is overweight or obese due to poor understanding of nutrition. If you ask me, I do not see why agencies such as ISN cannot work with the vast network of government health facilities all over the country to provide free or low-cost weight management programmes to the general public.
The team of doctors and therapists, including Faezah, the head physiotherapist, often work quietly behind our sports stars, constantly exploring the best recovery methods for our injured and battle-worn athletes. Their work definitely helps us to understand the human healing process better and is extremely useful to advance medical science in general.
Technologists behind our athletes aiming to improve performance through cutting edge research and development have in fact been producing technology for general consumption outside of sports. Think about the advanced engine oil Petronas has invented because of the company’s involvement in Formula One.
The Youth and Sports Ministry has always received one of the lowest allocations whether in the previous government or in the new. I believe one of the reasons for this is the incomplete story of sports we have been telling. If sports is merely Olympic gold medals, the public may not be excited to increase spending of their tax money in that field.
The Youth and Sports Ministry wants to tell the story of sports differently from now on. Yes, there are always the intangible values of sports – it is a unifying platform especially for a diverse society such as ours – but we also want to advertise the highly tangible and quantifiable outcomes of our investment in sports.
If we can show that for every ringgit spent on sports, we can reduce our hospital bill by x% or we will be able to decrease spending on prisons; if we can show that all the work put into creating an Olympian can eventually benefit society at large – from diabetes and cancer research to enhancing mobility to mental resilience and much more; if we can finally tell the full story of sports, I believe it will not only create greater interest in sports, but it will also revolutionise the way we think and do sports in the future.