Opinion Piece by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 1st of March, 2016
Axing selected athletic events at the 2017 KL Sea Games shows just how short sighted we are
Imagine this. It’s approaching the 2012 London Olympics. The United States Track and Field association decides not to send any Americans to compete in the 10,000m event at the Olympics because they thought there was no way that any American could win a medal against the African runners. After all, the last time an American medalled in this event was way back in 1964 in Tokyo. For 5 consecutive games since the Seoul games in 1988, every single medallist in this event was from Africa. The only person who could challenge the African dominance in this event was Britain’s Mo Farah and he wasn’t about to convert his citizenship anytime soon. Of course, this didn’t happen. The US sent a full contingent of 3 runners to compete in this event. One of them, a white kid from Oregon, outsprinted his African rivals to take the silver medal behind Mo Farah. It was the first medal for the Americans in this event in 48 years.
I bring up this example in light of the recent news that Malaysia has proposed to remove eight athletic events – the men’s and women’s marathon, the men’s and women’s 10000m, the men’s and women’s 3000 steeplechase, the decathlon and the heptathlon – from the 2017 South East Asian (SEA) games in Kuala Lumpur. It was reported that the likely reason for this decision is due to the fact that Malaysia does not have any medal contenders in these events. While the host country has some leeway in choosing to include or exclude certain events from the SEA games – think fencing (out) or speed skating (in) – it is unprecedented for these events to be excluded from the line-up of athletic events. The men’s 10000m had been run since the first SEA games in 1959, the decathlon, 3000m steeple chase and marathon since 1965. The women’s marathon debuted in 1983, the 10000m in 1987 and the heptathlon in 1965.
An equivalent would be if a country decided to leave out mixed doubles from the badminton line-up because it did not have any medal contenders in this particular badminton event.
The authorities in charge – whether it is the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) or the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) – should have anticipated the backlash from neighbouring countries over this ludicrous move. There is now talk that certain countries would boycott events such the triple jump, high jump and the discus, all events which Malaysia has medal contenders in. Worse still, Asia’s governing track authority, the Asian Athletics Association (AAA) has said that it would not sanction the holding of the athletics events at the SEA games in KL if these events are excluded from the overall line-up.
My best guess is that these events will eventually be restored to the athletics line-up as a result of the public backlash and the protests from other countries. These countries have until the middle of March to file their official appeals. But the larger question which this episode has revealed is the fact that Malaysia does not seem to have any plans to develop athletes in these events where we don’t have any medal contenders. This was not always the case.
Malaysian legend M. Ramachandran dominated the 10000m for almost a decade by bringing home the SEA games gold medal four times from 1993 to 1999. Dlibaugh Singh Kler won the 3000m steeple chase in three consecutive SEA games when the event was first introduced in 1965. Mohd Malik Ahmad Tobias took home the decathlon gold twice – in 1999 and 2003. Yuan Yufang, better known for her dominance in the 20km walk event, also took home the women’s 10000m gold medal in 1999. Zaiton Othman took home three SEA games gold medals in the heptathlon in the 1980s.
At a time when long distance running and triathlons (which is also being omitted from the 2017 SEA games) are becoming more and more popular in Malaysia, we should be encouraging the development of young talents in these events even if we do not have medal contenders at the moment. After all, the aforementioned Galen Rupp finished 13th in the 10000m in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. With a greater number of willing sponsors such as Garmin, Ultron and Amnig, the Malaysian Athletics Federation should be jumping on the bandwagon to promote long distance running and triathlon, instead of keeping quiet and passing the buck to the OCM.
At last weekend’s Tokyo Marathon, Edan Syah, achieved a personal best of 2 hours 38 minutes and 55 minutes and was the fastest Malaysian in the race. This timing would have placed Edan in 5th position at the 2015 Sea Games in Singapore. If the marathon is excluded from the 2017 SEA games, athletes like Edan would not know how they will fare against the best runners from the region. And Malaysian athletics would suffer as a result.
Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang