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Wan's Column - The Strategic Direction of Malaysian Sports - Clubs as the solid foundation

OCM Conference to formulate OCM's Strategic Plan 2011-2016
The Executive Board of Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) decided that a strategic plan be formulated to chart the progress of OCM over the next 5 years. This task has been given to the Strategic Planning Committee chaired by the Deputy President, Y.Bhg. Datuk Dr. M. Jegathesan.

The process of formulating the five year plan will start with a Conference with the Theme "From 'good' to 'great' - taking OCM to New Heights". The Conference will provide the opportunity to collect thoughts and ideas directed at the following questions:

  • Where are we now and how well have we done? (will incorporate our strengths and weaknesses)
  • Where do we want to go? (future directions)
  • How do we get there? (working out strategies within the context of threats and opportunities we face as an organization)

The inputs derived from this plenary session will then be taken up by the OCM strategic planning committee, which will then work on this to develop the strategic plan which will be tabled before the Executive Board and Council of the OCM for ratification before implementation.

The OCM Conference was held on the 23rd of January 2010 with the following objectives:

  1. To allow the President of the OCM to present his thoughts for the future of the OCM
  2. To hear from designated speakers on various aspects of the OCM's past, present and future
  3. To allow the participants at large to provide their inputs as well as to react to the presentations detailed above.

A total of more than 130 representatives from the National Sports Associations (NSAs) affiliated to OCM, representatives of sponsors, government sports officials, sports officials attended the Conference. Khoo Yi Kiat of PACM & I were two of the 8 invited volunteers to help to capture all the comments and views given by the invited speakers and members of the floor. I was also given another role as one of the panel speakers on the SWOT analysis of OCM. Many diverse views were given and for the purpose of this article, I will only touch on few issues closed to my heart; weaknesses of the NSAs, sports management education and clubs as the foundation of sports. Eventually when the final strategic plan is finalized, I hope some of my input will survive in the plan intact. More importantly, the plan gets implemented and desired results achieved for the betterment of Malaysian sports.

I find that the term "sports development" is not well understood as it usually refers to the churning out athletes in high performance sports. I feel sports development should be broad base, introducing & promoting the sports to individuals, from the young to the old, from those with more natural talent to those with lesser capabilities. This is where I feel failure among most NSAs. NSAs are very medals focused, measured by number of gold medals in regional games and I feel they could be obsessed with it at times. In their mission and goals, sports for all are excluded.

Weakness in OCM / Affiliates
I feel the weakness in OCM lies in its 50 affiliates. OCM's affiliates are rather weak generally and unable to perform their role in promoting their respective sports effectively. This in turn affect the objectives of OCM in promoting and developing the high performance sports and sports for all as OCM rely on its affiliates to develop their respective sports. I come from the corporate sector and if we were to compare OCM as a holding company with many subsidiaries made up of all the NSAs in different businesses (in different sports in our case), then OCM as the holding company can only be "Great" if the majority of the NSAs are themselves "Great" or at least "Good"

General Electric Inc (GE) is regarded as a "Great" company, although they did not make it to Jim Collins' list of 10 great companies in his book "From Good to Great". GE is in diversified businesses and their belief is that in all their businesses, they have to be a leader or among the leaders. If they do not achieve that, they change the CEO / Management or exit the business. If we take this analogy to GE's strategy of being "Great" in all their businesses, OCM must have a strategy to ensure that majority of the NSAs are "Great". Unlike GE, I guess OCM cannot exit a sport even if it does not do well but the crucial question is how could OCM help the NSAs that are weak and non-performing?

It is good to note that OCM will not be starting from scratch here as it already has Rating Process to grade the NSAs with approved criteria. Having done the rating exercise, OCM is able to put the NSAs into separate categories and now play an active advisory role to these NSAs based on their strength and weaknesses and have a transformation plan for each of the weak NSAs. I realized how helpless some of the state and national associations are when I attended the ASMC with some of them last year.

The transformation plan has to be individually designed as it will not be a "one size fit all" plan as different NSAs would have different problems/needs. OCM may not have this advisory team now but given its resources, it can form such a team with selected expertise from all over. OCM's advisory role can complement the educational objectives set out for the National Olympic Academy.

OCM has set up the National Olympic Academy with noble objectives. At the moment, the education process is very much voluntary and the attendance/commitment from the NSAs is rather lukewarm. The recent ASMC I attended is a clear indication of their lack of interest. OCM would need to be more forceful in getting its affiliates to attend training programs. In most professional bodies, there are certain compulsory professional education requirements to ensure professionals keep pace with their skill development. Why should sports be different?

All in all, OCM need to enforce transformation in NSAs that are non-performing just about the way a Holding company would do so to their non-performing subsidiaries. It will be a painful process but like all strong medicine, things will get worse better it gets better.

Of Foundation, Clubs and Sports for All
The other piece I like to comment on is the role of clubs in sports development and inculcating sports for all. I was at the OCM Museum during the recent OCM Youth Leadership Conference and I saw on chart that I reproduce here to show the relationship of the sports structure globally.

Having taken a helicopter view from 30,000 feet above sea level, let's try to go to the ground and see what's happening. Since I am a recreational runner, I would use athletics as the example. Sports governance exists for the purpose of the sports to serve the athletes. The athletes usually are individuals or members of a sports club, in my case I am a member of Pacesetters Athletic Club, Malaysia.(PACM) PACM, in turn belongs to Federal Territory Amateur Athletic Association (FTAAA) which is the state sports association (SSA) for athletics governing the sports. FTAAA is affiliated to Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union (MAAU) ( the national sports association governing athletics in Malaysia. MAAU is the only recognized athletic body in Malaysia that is affiliated to International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) (, the global body governing athletics. At the same time, MAAU is also affiliated to OCM, the coordinating body for all national sports associations. IAAF and OCM along with all other International Federations of other sports and various National Olympic Associations are affiliated to the International Olympic Committee, based in Switzerland.

The vision, mission and goal of MAAU are as follows;

While this article is not intended to critic MAAU's Vision Mission statement, I can't help but find the sports for all piece is totally missing from the goals, it is all about high performance sports. I wonder whether sports for all are in the State AAAs' goals. This perhaps partly explains the missing link in the sports clubs as sports clubs tend to be more recreational rather than high performance.

Now why do I take so much pain to explain the relationship? It is my intention to dwell with the substance and form of this governing structure. The fundamental role of the NSAs is to govern and promote their sports. Therefore, if a certain sport in a country is not doing well, the buck stops at the NSA. In Malaysia, the NSAs promote their sports via the SSAs. This is where the problem lies, not all the SSAs are capable or active. Of course due consideration has to be given to small states like Perlis as compared to large state like Selangor, the population of the states, their demography will determine the popularity of the sports. Within the states we have the districts sports activities promoted by the state sports councils. The membership of the SSA is from the sports clubs. The strength and weakness clearly lies in the sports clubs. In many sports, especially in athletics, the clubs are few. Just use FTAAA as an example, I recall FTAAA having more than 130 affiliates of various clubs and associations back in the eighties when even my old boys association was a member. Now FTAAA has about 30 affiliates and even these affiliates are by and large inactive. FTAAA is considered one of the strongest SSAs and you can imagine the situation in the smaller states. This problem is repeated in many other sports where the vacuum is greatly felt at the demise of the sports clubs, in short, the SSAs are hollow! A few years ago when we have Datuk Azalina as Sports Minister, the revival of the sports clubs is very much talk about at national level. However, the status of the issue is that we talked about it, nothing more! We can say today we have a big vacuum at the SSAs and the clubs.

The role of the clubs is not just about development of sports at high performance level but fulfill the very important role of promoting sports for all, an equally important objective of OCM along with high performance sports. They also form a conduit for school leavers to further their sporting activities after they left schools. Tunku Imran, president of OCM spoke passionately that he rather sees 2 million individuals running than having 5 gold medals. I would put in another way, if we have 2 million individuals running recreationally, we already have the cake. Should we also win the SEA Games Marathon gold medal, we then have the icing on the cake. Could you imagine having 2 million individuals running? It means that we become a healthier nation with fewer problems from lifestyle diseases. We would move closer to a sporting culture like in Australia.

Examples of Grass Root Development
I do have a little story to share on the role of clubs with Michelle Tan Bee Kiang as the case study. In 2000 and 2001 when Michele was in Form 4 and 5, she ran with the Pacesetters Youth Program at Kampung Pandan under the guidance of Viviene Kartsounis and KK Oon. She did not have family support in pursuit of the sports. The club played a role here and she was supported via the New Balance Racing Team program as a back-up runner. On Sundays for the long runs, members of the Permaisuri Group such as Phoon Yoke Heng and a few others provided her with the transport to Bukit Aman Car-park where the Pacesetters train for their long runs. She took part in both the track and road events with some modest achievements. She wrote about her experience with the club in her article, "Thoughts of a young Pacesetter" (Footloose January 2001)

I recall she joined me to run at a road race in Perak in 2001. On the way back, Jenny Lim (PACM ladies captain then) hitched a ride from us and while in my vehicle, Jenny advised her "You have strong legs, you should be able to train harder and improve" Michelle left the club after her Form 5 and further her studies in LLB. After her LLB, she re-emerged in the club and started training with the better runners, including the African runners. Today she is one of the top 3 runners in the women open category for marathon and 21km with a personal best time of 3hr 45mins for the marathon. The club cannot claim credit for her current achievements but the club did provided her a niche during her formative years when she was in Form 4 and 5; that is factual.

Another story I wish to share is on my third daughter, Karen. In her younger days, she is kind of a softie among my 4 girls. Her school in Subang Jaya is like any other schools now, rushing off their sports activities by the first few months of the year to focus on producing As in the public exams. She was lucky to get associated with a former basketball player turned coach by the name of Gary.

Karen and Wan after the District Finals

He has the passion for the sports and gathered about 20 girls from a few schools to provide them the basic training with the intention to form a girl team for local competitions such as the Jasmine Cup. Over the last 2 years I witnessed her improvement in the sports and she ended by representing her district in the Inter-district Under 18 Basketball Competition, her team came out runners-up in 2009. In my housing area, Subang Jaya we also have a group of individuals who raise funds with some help from Datuk Lee Hwa Beng, assembly man of Subang Jaya then and MPSJ to build a covered basketball court in USJ14. This covered court comes with lights and can host tournaments without interruption by the weather. I appreciate the effort of this group of individuals and Gary towards providing my daughter and many kids in Subang Jaya an opportunity to play basketball beyond what the school can cater.

Picture taken at the Inter-District U/18 Basketball at Sungei Chua. The other lady is Lee Shew Keng, PACM member and ex-national basketballer. I invited her to watch the match as she stays in Kajang.

Build the Foundation
These two grass root stories gave hope towards a sporting culture and there are groups and individuals out there willing to contribute to sports mainly due to their passion for it. The SSAs need to engage with these groups, clubs and individuals and give them the appropriate support. Engagement with them via membership, affiliation, communication will be a good start towards building up a strong representation of the sports at district / state level. The SSAs should provide incubator service (helping clubs through the formative stage) to encourage more clubs to be formed and get affiliated to them to create a wider base of both recreational and high performance sports practitioners. When more of the states are strong, they become the foundation towards a stronger national body. When more of the national bodies are strong, their contribution towards national sports will be significant and OCM as a coordinating body can perhaps become great one day!

Wan Yew Leong
27 Feb 2010


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