Malaysian Olympic – Not About Talent

I watched my favourite sport, basketball, with great interest. It was a match between Russia and Spain. The first two quarters led by Russia, it was probably then the Spanish could have said ‘bastante!’ (means enough in Spanish!) in the next two quarters. The Spanish won by 67-59 in the semifinal. The Spanish will be meeting the Americans today for gold medal – a rematch like it was in Beijing Olympic 2008 where the two met with the Americans won gold at that time.

What caught my attention is these countries like Spain, Russia, Jamaica, Azerbaijan and few other countries somehow managed to produced superb athletes that not just compete but breaking world records like breaking cookies. Take for example Usain Bolt and his 4×100 quartet – the Jamaican sensation. You probably have seen Usain Bolt in action, he is a lightning bolt! Currently the world record holder for 100m and together with his Jamaican 4x100m quartet.

You should check out the medal standing list here and take note of country like Russia (3rd), Iran (18th), Azerbaijan (28th), Ethiopia (30th) and several other countries. Our beloved Malaysian team is currently on 57th spot. For the record Malaysia Olympic debut was in 1956, while Azerbaijan was in 1996, Ethiopia (1956), Czech Republic (1996) and North Korea (1992). Malaysia is nowhere near in terms of performance compare to where we started. What had happen to us? Clearly there is a need of change but what to change? Is it true that we are short of talent? Or could it be short-sighted mind-set? Here are my thoughts.

"Start small, win big. Focus on producing new talents."
“Start small, win big. Focus on producing new talents.”

Firstly big congratulations to Lee Chong Wei and Pandelela Rinong for bringing back the silver and bronze Olympic medals. Not easy of course to compete at world stage. My congratulation also goes to Azizul Hasni Awang (cycling) and several others Malaysian athletes that managed to qualify into the Olympics despite the challenges they face not just in their training regime but short-sightedness mind-set of our own kind. As an avid sportsman once in my life, I have witnessed that when people are given the right opportunities with the right support they will excel. This is true not just in sports, but in anything e.g. corporate world and entrepreneurs.

I still remember the days when our football was at the top of the game when it was sponsored by Dunhill, Benson & Hedges and Gold Leaf – the tobacco companies. Now they have been banned, funnily the quality of football followed suit.  A lot of talents produced from every corner of the country with many of them became football legends. They are Dollah Salleh, Zainal Abidin Hassan, Mokhtar Dahari, Soh Chin Aun, R. Arumugam (Spiderman), and Abdul Ghani Minhat. I must have missed out some names here because there should be more of them.

While many sportsmen agreed that older generation athletes have the more tenacity than the current ones, lets face the reality that the world has changed. Imagine if this same outdated thinking being applied in other country; they too will face the same problem like us. The bad news is the others have changed while we are not. Check out the latest news about Malaysians is the 10th laziest nation in the world. We don’t like change, maybe personally everybody claims that they are changing but as a nation we aren’t. How to revive our sports so we can be competitive? How to encourage streams of talents so they can excel in tournaments and competitions? Did you know that sports unite people? Why not use it as a unity tool instead? Here are my thoughts.

1. The big corporates must come forward to invest.

Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever said this recently, “People are looking for solutions, and if governments don’t provide them, they’ll find businesses that do.” We need more businesses to step forward because it looks like the government is only interested in the doing the minimum. I can understand why. What’s the point of announcing fat profits where as corporate citizen you don’t really develop the community that you do business with? I urge the corporates to start giving and invest in athletes because it will make this country a better place and sustainable for your business. Do you know that people love Milo (the chocolate drink) because other than making your child healthy it also makes you feel good because they support the children in sports? So I hope that answers you WIIFM question.

2. Build real infrastructure and train talents after talents

We Malaysian have short term thinking mentality. We always look for quick wins the soonest possible and then forget that it is a decathlon not a sprint and not even a marathon. This applies to corporate world and sports alike. I remember going for business meetings, all they ask is what the quick wins are. Then all the resources will be spent on that and that’s it. Quick wins is not enough because to win big we need to work long term. Look at the Jamaican, I am very sure they must have found the secret sauce for producing sprinters like Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. Wrong techniques don’t yield the desired results. In some countries they have already use technology to improve performance. These technologies don’t come cheap and many are proprietary. We need to develop them – find a way to work with the sports community. Ask them and get them do their work.

"Your actions express your priorities."
“Your actions express your priorities.”

3. Start collaborating with shared purpose mentality

Sociologist Max Weber outlined four bases for social relations to be successful – tradition, self-interest, affection and shared purpose. Self-interest underlies what all businesses do, of course. The great companies around the world and in our country have done this right at least for their own staffs with strong tradition and affection to motivate them. They have derived strength from strong, broadly felt affection and churning out charismatic leaders in the process. Nonetheless like I said, as a nation we have yet to build a collaborative culture of shared purpose. A collaborative community seek a basis for trust and organizational and national cohesion that is more robust than self-interest, more flexible than tradition and less momentary than the emotional and with charismatic appeal. It’s not just a good vision statement, but it’s a description of what everyone in the organization or nation is trying to do.

My conclusion is that we need to do this together as a nation, not as individual. We already have the resources to start collaborating on sports project and make things happen. It’s about time all these resources converge and synergize to propel to something bigger than the sum of what they can do individually. We need to see the new line ups of athletes regardless of their social background and more importantly new line ups of corporates to invest in most of the developments. Start small and aim for the big win, together.


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