Thursday, 19 August 2010

Less aid, more autonomy

MALAYSIA are busy with their preparation for two major multi-Games - the Commonwealth (Oct 3-15) and the Asian (Nov 12-27). And usually, during this time, the spotlight falls on the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM). Do the OCM exist as a mere platform to select the best athletes for the Games? The president, Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar, thinks that the OCM can offer more as far as their contributions to Malaysian sports are concerned. He speaks to Starsport’s RAJES PAUL on a variety of issues and the focus today is on the autonomy of sports and who owns the athletes.

Tunku Tan Sri Imran: ‘The OCM can establish all sets of rules and codes of ethics but at the end of the day, the OCM do not have any way to enforce the rules. We at best, can only advice.’
Q: There was a recent incident when the Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union (MAAU) dropped two of their national athletes but the National Sports Council (NSC) insisted that these athletes were still under the elite programme because they had been funding them. Who is in control of the athletes?
A: I think, it is important to understand the role of the NSC.
They were established by the government to support sports in the country, mostly by providing funds. They are like sponsors for the NSAs (national sports associations).
It is important for the NSAs to establish an agreement with the NSC as to exactly what the government wants as a return for the money invested on them.
If this is cleared and clarified, all things will go well. But there are problems when the functions are not clearly defined.
The buck must stop with the NSAs.
They cannot blame anyone except themselves for any failure or take the credit for any success.
At the end of the day, they are totally responsible and accountable for the success and failure of athletes.
There were problems between the MAAU and the NSC because there were grey areas in the relationship between the two parties.

Q: So, do you think that the NSC have overstepped their jurisdiction?
A: Sometimes, I do not blame the NSC because they get so frustrated when the NSAs do not have proper development programmes or coaches.
Problems arise when the NSAs give up their responsibilities and the NSC are left with no choice but to take over that role, That is when the clash tend to occur.
But really, I think, the NSC should get back to the fact that they are created to support the sport and not run the sport.

Q: How do we stop the NSAs from abusing their powers?
A: I think autonomy does not mean independence. Autonomy to the NSAs mean that they basically should be allowed to do what they need to do.
But it does not mean that they can do anything and live on the money given by the government without showing any accountability.
It is so important to have a close working relationship between the NSAs and the NSC – that is if the NSAs choose to live on the money provided by the government.
Some NSAs may not want government money because they are self-sufficient and well-funded.

Q: Can a NSA stand on their own two feet and survive in Malaysia?
A: Financial independence strengthens the independent voice of the sport, which underlines the independence of the NSAs.
Some NSAs are so reliant on the NSC for funds and as a result, they are unable to make decisions that they want to at times and have to follow those made by the NSC.
Like I said before, the buck has to stop with the NSAs. The sports experts are with the NSAs and the NSC should respect that. Of course, in some rare cases, the NSC are more expert than the NSAs, especially when the sport has elected the wrong person through democracy to manage the house.
I think, the issue here is that the NSAs are too depended on one source of income and this is not doing them any favour. I hope that those running the NSAs should have a wide stream of income coming from various sources so that they can have their independence and autonomy.

Q: How can the OCM play a role when an athlete feels that they being treated unfairly by his NSA?
A: We in the OCM do have a dispute resolution process when we can have mediation and arbitration if an athlete truly believes that he should have been selected for certain Games or being wrongfully ignored.
We can try to bring some kind of mediation, form an independent body and try to put together the two aggrieved parties to end an issue. But we have to be very sensitive. Sometimes, we can get the wrong information.
Sometimes, a good and talented sportsman cannot be part of the team. This is because some coaches rather drop a bad apple than having one in the team who can create great tension. For instance, Nicolas Anelka was thrown out by the French team (at the FIFA World Cup Finals) for causing division.
We will be more than happy to assist our members to solve these issues.

Q: How effective is the OCM’s role as mediators to solve issues by athletes andthe NSAs?
A: The OCM can establish all sets of rules and codes of ethics but at the end of the day, the OCM do not have any way to enforce the rules. We at best, can only advice. This is a challenge for the OCM. My favourite expression is of taking a horse to the water but unable to make it drink because it does not want to.

Q: Is there anyone bigger than sports?
A: There will be no issue if everyone knows well enough his own roles. Having said that, I think, that the cornerstone of sports is the volunteers. Without them, we may have to spend billions to run the sport.
The volunteers in the NSAs must be given due respect. There are those who sacrifice their time and money for sport. For them, their reward is the satisfaction of knowing that they have done well.
Their sacrifices may not often lead to one winning medals but over the years, we have seem more sports qualifying for the Olympic Games. This gives the testimony that these volunteers are doing a great job. I have great admiration for many of them.
There may be one or two bad apples but we should not generalise and pile all volunteers as the cause for the rot in sport.s I think, that is unfair.

* Note: The Q and A with Tunku Imran will run for six sessions. Questions and comments can be mailed to


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