Reasons why the postponement of the SCKL Marathon is important

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 15th of July, 2015

Reasons why the postponement of the SCKL Marathon is important

With the 1MDB scandal and the Low Yat police investigations still ongoing, why should we pay attention to the postponement by one week of a running event in Kuala Lumpur?

Here are some reasons why the postponement of the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon from Sunday, 4th of October, 2015 to Saturday, 10th of October, 2015 at the request of the Minister of Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, so that it coincides with the National Sports Day, matters more than you think.

Reason 1: Khairy Jamaluddin is supposed to be one of the more progressive and open-minded UMNO leaders

KJ has been touted as one of the more open minded, intelligent and progressive UMNO leaders who is media savvy and supposedly more in tune with the thinking of the people, especially the younger generation. He himself is also a runner, after having participated in the 10km run in last year’s SCKL event. If a supposedly progressive and open minded leader like KJ can unilaterally and without considering the well-being and convenience of the participants, change the date of a major international sporting event in the country just to fulfil some meaningless KPI for the National Sports Day, what does it say about the state of leadership among the current group of BN leaders?

Such an action should give us good cause to doubt the sincerity and credibility of the other BN leaders, including the Prime Minister, when the supposedly progressive Youth and Sports Minister can attempt such an inconsiderate and ill thought out ‘stunt’ like this.

Reason 2: This episode shows that Ministers in Malaysia have way too much power in their hands

Imagine if the Obama administration had asked the organizers and main sponsors of the Chicago Marathon or if the David Cameron administration had asked the organizers and main sponsors of the London Marathon to shift the date of their events to accommodate a government sponsored celebration of some sort. I am quite sure that the organizers will ask the Obama or the Cameron administration to get lost, albeit using more polite and formal language. Of course, neither the Obama nor the Cameron administration would ever dream of such a request knowing the political backlash they would face if the dates of either event were to be changed at their request.

But in Malaysia, the organizers and main sponsors of the SCKL Marathon seems powerless to say no to the request of the Minister to shift the date in order to coincide the National Sports Day, even though the Ministry of Youth and Sports is neither the main sponsor nor the main organizer of the event.

This episode is a microcosm of a much larger problem in Malaysia, which is that Ministers have way too much power in their hands. Not only can they exert pressure using their own ministries but they can also count on the support of various other ministries and government agencies. For example, the Ministry of Youth and Sports could ask DBKL to withhold support and funding for the SCKL marathon if the organizers did not agree to the change of date. I do not know what transpired in the background but I won’t be surprised if various governmental levers were pulled in order to ‘encourage’ the organizers of the SCKL Marathon to change the date.

Reason 3: This episode shows an utter disregard for the public feedback after the date change was announced

If Khairy was really in tune with the running community, he would have anticipated the public backlash that would follow resulting from the change in date from the 4th of October, 2015 to the 10th of October, 2015. Flight tickets would have been booked in advance, dates in the running calendar set, holiday plans would have been made for a weekend in KL.

Standard Chartered KL Marathon’s Facebook page has been bombarded with over 1000 comments, an overwhelming majority of which are negative and which criticized the decision.[1] Khairy’s own Facebook has been similarly bombarded with messages criticizing this unilateral decision.[2]

A Facebook page entitled “Bring SCKLM Back to October 4: Stop Politicising Sporting Events” that was created on Monday, 13th of July, just after the date change announcement was made, has already garnered over 3000 likes.[3] A petition that was set up on Tuesday, 14th of July, has already reached 1500 signatures.[4]

Despite the overwhelming negative feedback, Khairy, who is normally an active social media user, has been ‘missing in action’ for the past two days and has not come out to explain to the running community why he needs to hijack the 35,000 runners to fulfil the arbitrarily set KPI for the National Sports Day.

He probably thinks he can get away with it and he’s probably right. There will be some people who will withdraw and ask for a refund. But there will be others who will be willing to sign up for the event especially for the shorter 5km and 10km distances (the event was sold out in 4 days which shows that the demand is there) But just because Khairy can get away with it doesn’t mean that it is right, or that the voices of the many unhappy people can be ignored.

Reason 4: Malaysia’s international reputation has been tarnished

The Standard Chartered KL Marathon is an international marathon which means that participants from all over the world will specially make plans to come to Malaysia to take part in this marathon. International marathons such as Berlin, London, Boston, Chicago, New York and Tokyo attract international participation at the elite and non-elite levels. While the SCKLM is nowhere near the level of the World Major Marathons[5], it is one of two major international marathons in the country (the other being the Penang Bridge International Marathon). This unilateral change in date will affect not just the reputation of SCKLM but also of other major running events in Malaysia especially among the international running community. Rather than risk the danger of another postponement because of political interference, many of them will prefer to miss this event in the international running calendar. All the hard work with the organizers have put in to build up the international reputation of this event has been tarnished and with that Malaysia’s international reputation as a place which can hold world class running events.

For these reasons, the decision to postpone a running event is a microcosm of the larger problems which the country is facing right now and this is why the postponement of this event after a unilateral decision by the Minister is something worth paying attention to.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming is the MP for Serdang and has also signed up to run 42km for his charity of choice, Ecoknights. He has raised RM1000 thus far for this charity and feels disappointed if this change in date would affect the fund raising efforts of all those who have signed up to Run for a Cause (RFAC).