No denying Azizul’s success but what about other targets? – Sports Analyst


KUALA LUMPUR – The Malaysian contingent needs to do some self-reflection on its overall performance at the just-concluded 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games instead of using Datuk Mohd Azizulhasni Awang’s (picture) success as a face-saving measure, said a sports analyst.

Dr Pekan Ramli said for one, the contingent did not win Malaysia its first Olympic gold, a target set under the Podium Programme launched in 2016 which had also failed to place Malaysia among the top 10 in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018.

He also questioned whether the one silver and one bronze won in Tokyo were justifiable returns for the millions of ringgit spent on preparing the Malaysian athletes to Tokyo the past five years.

Pekan, who is head of Sports Section of the Ministry of Higher Education, stressed that COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse because other countries and athletes were similarly affected by the pandemic, which reared its ugly head in early 2020.

“If we look at the overall achievement, there’s nothing much to be proud of. You can say there were three failures – targeting three medals but winning only two, failing to win our first gold medal, and (for badminton) some medal prospects did not deliver but other athletes had to play their hearts out to win.

“The pandemic not only hit our country but affected others too, and I feel there are other factors which spurred them to excellence at the Olympics. After missing our targets in the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and 2019 SEA Games, we should have known whether we were on the right track or not,” he said when contacted by Bernama.

At Tokyo 2020, Malaysia, represented by 30 athletes in 10 sports, missed its target of three medals, including one gold, and returned with just a silver and bronze.

Track cycling ace Mohd Azizulhasni won silver in men’s keirin while Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik took bronze in badminton men’s doubles.

Pekan felt that although it was rather late as the 2024 Paris Olympics is just three years away, there should be special planning and projects for the 2024 games and future editions.

Only the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) is seen to have formulated a plan beyond the Tokyo Olympics, when it launched the 2024 Project in September 2019 with the objective of winning a gold at the Paris Olympics and qualifying for the Thomas Cup finals.

The Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Sports and Recreational Science senior lecturer said Malaysia should also reduce dependence on senior or experienced athletes by identifying and training young talent with potential to win medals on the international stage.

Citing the example of 14-year-old Chinese diver Quan Hongchan, who dominated the women’s 10m platform event in Tokyo, he said Malaysian athletes should discard the mindset that qualifying for the Olympics was already an achievement and instead should compete with the aim of winning a medal.

“We shouldn’t have such a mindset for the Olympics because you won’t know if you can qualify for the next Olympics. They need to understand that when you qualify for the Olympics, whether on merit or wildcard, regard it as your first and last appearance and put on your best performance.

“Athletes also need to understand that competing at several Olympics is not just to increase the number of times you were at the Olympics … Competing at four Olympics, that’s 16 years, just to compete and not win a medal. You must make sure your performance is good,” he explained.

He also said that every athlete who qualifies for the Olympics should be given the same treatment in terms of preparation, technological support, equipment and allocation.

Also, Pekan suggested that medal targets be set a year or two before the Olympics by identifying the relevant sports and athletes for better focus and direction, but admitted that this could be complicated by the qualifying process which may conclude only several months before the event.

Meanwhile, Youth and Sports Ministry Panel of Experts Committee member Datuk V. Radhakrishnan also felt that the achievement of the national contingent was average, with some of the athletes looking mentally unprepared for the high-level challenge.

He was disappointed that the gold medal remained elusive to Malaysia after 65 years of participation in the Olympics, while other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia added to their gold collection at the Tokyo edition and the Philippines bagged their first gold.

Radhakrishnan, who praised Mohd Azizulhasni’s fighting spirit and performance at Tokyo, felt that the national contingent probably ‘over-estimated’ the cyclist’s potential to deliver gold, without fully studying the real capabilities of his opponents and their tactical strategies.

Radhakrishnan, a former vice-president of the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC), agreed with Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican that a total overhaul was needed for the multi-million ringgit Podium Programme to produce a better outcome at Paris 2024.

“The decision makers need to act quickly and get back to the drawing board again as our policies need a 360-degree turn. We don’t have much time before the next Olympics, while in the next few months we will be facing Hanoi SEA Games, 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games and 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games. So we have to identify potentials.

“The sad part here, (is that) every time after the Games are over, a post-mortem will be done but it is never revealed or acted upon. So what is the point of always saying we will look into it but nothing is being looked into?

“Post-mortem (findings) should be released and shouldn’t be kept confidential because when you wanted the support, the entire nation supported you. But when you failed, you don’t want to reveal why you failed,” Radhakrishnan said.