Citizen Nades - Reach for the stars

THE weekend newspapers gave full coverage on the National Sports Day. The prime minister was seen on television playing table tennis; the sports minister doing his push-ups; VIPs involved in volleyball; and the ordinary rakyat taking part in fat-burning exercises.

What happens after one day of an all-paid-for fun and frolic? Everyone goes back to his or her routine but the prime minister had a serious message: "I want the National Sports Day to be defined as being active in sports every day. There is no necessity to indulge in sports formally. If the distance is not far, we can walk (to the destination). If we have to go up two or three floors, there is no need to use the lift, just climb the staircase."

But on the same note, where does someone who has left school and is keen to improve in his or her chosen sport go to? Where does one get to enhance skills in say, football or athletics? In the Klang Valley, there's hardly any place. Open spaces are scarce – taken over in the name of development.

Playing fields in Kuala Lumpur have disappeared. The Railway Grounds in Sentul and Brickfields are gone; atop the Selangor Chinese Recreation Club field sits a concrete building; the Selangor Indian Association field and building along Jalan Istana made way for road expansion; the TPCA stadium in Jalan Raja was "acquired" by the government; and the Selangor Club Padang is now Dataran Merdeka.

Over in Klang, the huge Town Padang where three games could be played simultaneously is now a standing monument to indecision. After building a stadium, it was torn down. The Chetty Padang which has produced several state and national players is in a dilapidated condition.

School fields have not been spared either. Many have academic blocks of laboratories and libraries plonked on fields as the student population increases.

We would love to heed the calls of the prime minister but even forest reserves where the locals go for their morning walk or evening jog have come under threat.

But despite the gloom, there was some consolation in seeing our Olympians and Paralympians being feted by Malaysians. Their sacrifices and contributions drive home the point that despite all hurdles, we will overcome.

The presentation of their cheques, which they rightly deserve, is only a fraction of what our government spends on sports promotion and related activities. Yes, millions are going to be spent on the preparations for next year's SEA Games, at which we are most likely to end up as the nation with the most medals. We will thump our chests and shout "Malaysia Boleh". The status of just being jaguh kampung seems to satisfy the needs of political expediency.

On Sunday, I was surfing channels on television between the Japanese Grand Prix and the Indonesian Golf Masters. The winner was a baby-faced 23-year-old Poom Saksansin of Thailand who cruised to a comfortable five-shot victory. Thai teenagers Phachara Khongwatmai and Suradit Yongcharoenchai, both aged just 17, and Japan's Masahiro Kawamura settled for tied second place.

Thailand, despite limited resources, has over the years consistently produced so many young golfers whose names are not only on the leader boards in regional tournaments but also on the European and US circuits. Women's golf for long dominated by South Koreans now has some Thai entrants making the winners' circle.

So, where have we gone wrong? Are there dedicated development programmes for the young? I am told that Sports Excel, which hardly receives a sen from the government, has been instrumental in helping players make the grade by sending them overseas for training.

Besides, it sends junior players for a 12-round Asia-Pacific Junior Circuit. But Sports Excel is an NGO. What about the national body?

After every Malaysian Open, the prime minister traditionally announces a grant of RM1 million and in at least one case RM2 million for the development of golf. With so much money, why are we unable to come even close to the Thais?

M. Jegathesan at one time held three national records – 100m, 200m and 400m. After 48 years, no one has been able to beat the 20.92s record he set for the 200m event at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. This is despite the development in training, footwear and surfaces.

It may be of interest to note that at the Rio Paralympic Games last month, a disabled middle-distance runner shattered the 1500m Paralympic world record and beat Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz's time by more than 1.7s.

Abdellatif Baka of Algeria won the 1500m final and the feat was made all the more stunning given the fact that the second, third and fourth-placed finishers all recorded times faster than Centrowicz, meaning that four Paralympic athletes had run times fast enough to win gold had they competed in the Olympic Games.

Don't you think that the fourth placed runner should be treated as a winner for his timing?

So, are we happy that we will take the gold at SEA Games level and falter at the next level – the Asian Games? Are we satisfied with just mediocre results or do we set our sights higher? Do we reward the colour of the medal or do we look at the achievements beyond that?

Don't we want to produce a Joseph Schooling or a Kiradech Aphibarnrat? Do we praise a Malaysian for just making the cut or finishing the heats or do we want to wait until the final whistle, literally.

In football, we declared a holiday just because we won a regional tournament. Is that enough reason to rejoice? Will we have a week's holiday if we qualify for the World Cup and a month's holiday if we make it to the last 16?

These are some of the many pitfalls afflicting local sports because we always compare ourselves with the lowest common denominator. It is time to get rid of the jaguh kampung ambition and become obsessed with being jaguh dunia.

R. Nadeswaran says the bar should not be lowered and mediocrity should not be accepted, appreciated, celebrated or rewarded. Comments: citizen-nades@thesundaily.com