The Ministry of Youth and Sports needs to take the lead in regulating running events in Malaysia

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang and Deputy Political Education Director for the DAP, on the 12th of December 2017

The Ministry of Youth and Sports needs to take the lead in regulating running events in Malaysia

I write this statement with a heavy heart because it is necessitated by a terrible accident which put a friend of mine, Evelyn Ang (also known as @missyblurkit among those in the running community), in the hospital after she was hit by a car in last Sunday’s Klang International Marathon 2017. As a friend and as a fellow runner, my utmost concern is for Evelyn and her family as she fights on in what will be the toughest battle of her life to date. I do not, in any way, want to politicise the events surrounding her accident. At the same time, given the many comments and opinions voiced by some in the running community and in the larger public, I feel that this is an opportune time to discuss some of the larger issues which concern the running community, including what can be done to ensure the safety of runners who participate in these races.

1) The vast majority of running events are not approved by the Office of the Sports Commissioner

Shortly after reports of the accident involving Evelyn and two other runners, the Sports Commissioner of Malaysia, Dato’ Zaiton Othman, issued a statement on Monday, 11th of December 2017, stating that the organizers of the Klang International Marathon did not apply for approval to her office to organize this event.[1] She cited Section 36 (1) of the Sports Development Act 1997 which states that: “A company shall not involve itself in any sporting activity or in any other activity related to sports, as may be prescribed by the Minister in the regulations, unless it is licensed to do so by the Commissioner” (see Figure 1 below). The Minister for Youth and Sports, Brigadier General Khairy Jamaluddin, also cited the same section of the Act when he was reported to have recommended that legal action be taken against the organizers of the Klang International Marathon 2017.[2]

Figure 1: Section 36 of the Sports Development Act 1997

But what the Sports Commissioner as well as the Minister failed to disclose is that the vast majority of races in Malaysia are NOT approved by the Office of the Sports Commissioner. For most runs in Malaysia, the race organizer only has to obtain permission from the local authority e.g. DBKL or MBPJ, the venue owner e.g. MAEPS in Serdang and the traffic police. Hardly any race organizers I know ask for permission from the Office of the Sports Commissioner. The police and the local authorities also don’t require the race organizers to have permission from the Office of the Sports Commissioner.

If the Klang International Marathon is an illegal race because it was not approved by the Office of the Sports Commissioner, then almost all other races in Malaysia would be considered illegal including ultramarathons, trail runs, charity runs, fun runs, tower runs as well as cycling events.

2) “International” events have to be approved by the Minister of Youth and Sports

Where the organizers may have gotten themselves into more trouble is by calling their event an “International” event.

According to Section 33 of the Sports Development Act 1997, “no person shall bid to host any international sports competition or event in Malaysia without the prior approval in writing of the Minister whose decision thereon shall be final.” (See Figure 2 below) The purpose of this law is to ensure that there is government support and sanction for international level sporting events but its meaning has been expanded to include events with the word “International” in it.

Figure 2: Section 33 of the Sports Development Act 1997

The definition of what an “international” competition constitutes needs to be clarified. If there are participants from more than one country in a run, is that sufficient for an event to call itself an “International” event? If an event does not have the word “International” in it but expects mass participation from other countries as was the case for the Malaysian Marathon, does it fall into the definition of an international competition?

3) Just because a running event is organized by a Government Ministry or Department, including the Ministry of Youth and Sports, does not mean that proper standards and guidelines are followed

Many in the running community can still remember the inaugural Malaysian Marathon that was supposed to be held on the 1st of October, 2017. This race was supposed to attract 5,000 runners from China in addition to Malaysian runners. The organizers of this event included the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, DBKL and Wisdom Sports and was sanctioned by the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) and supported by a whole host of government agencies and departments (See Figure 3 below). Despite all this government support, this race was cancelled in the end because the organizer, Wisdom Sports, could not deliver on its promise to attract 5,000 runners from China to participate in this event. (All participants who had signed up for this event had their registration fees fully refunded but not their flight or other travel expenses that had already been incurred.)

Figure 3: The list of organizers and sponsors for the 2017 Malaysian Marathon which was subsequently cancelled

Even though this event was sanctioned by the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF), the actual race route (42km, 21km and 10km) was not announced when this race was open for registration. In fact, the route was never announced which makes one wonder how the MAF could have ‘sanctioned’ this race without knowing the race route and hence, the procedures which were needed to ensure the safety of the runners.

Other government sponsored events which were cancelled includes the 2015 HRDF Half Marathon (for which participants still have not been reimbursed)[3] and 2016 Melaka International Century Ride which was supported by the Melaka state government and cancelled 5 days before the event was supposed to take place.[4]

4) The Office of the Sports Commissioner has no expertise in determining or ensuring the quality of a running event including the safety standards

While the law states that the approval for running events is supposed to be given by the Office of the Sports Commissioner, in reality, this office does not have the expertise or capacity to evaluate if a race organizer is up to the mark in terms of their ability to organize a safe and high-quality race. The Sports Commissioner will turn to the sporting body that oversees that sport to seek their recommendation on whether to approve an event or not. In the case of running events, the relevant body is the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF). The MAF itself, as far as I know, is not a race organizer. They provide technical advice and assistance to race organizers on details such as the suitability of a race route, runners’ safety, water stations, runners’ timing and so on. Ideally, the MAF should provide guidelines and standards for race organizers to follow in order to ensure a high-quality race. Sadly, the MAF does not have a website or an active facebook page so we do not know if such guidelines exist and whether or not they are provided to race organizers.

This being the case, one wonders how the Office of the Sports Commissioner can decide on whether or not to follow the recommendation of the MAF in approving a particular race.

5) Runners must know the cost of any regulation imposed by the Ministry or the Office of the Sports Commissioner

There has been some discussion that it should be made mandatory for race organizers to pay a certain fee to the MAF as part of the process of regulating races in Malaysia in order to ensure high-quality races (including non-cancellations and proper safety standards). These costs, if imposed, will likely be passed on to the consumer i.e. the runners. Race organizers and ultimately, runners, must know how the extra charges and fees imposed will be spent by an organization such as the MAF and how this regulation can ensure that high-quality events will be organized. For example, will part of the fee go into training sessions organized by the MAF for race organizers? Will part of the fee go to MAF to help them develop the athletics scene in Malaysia? All these issues need to be discussed and then made known in a transparent manner.

6) Section 36 of the Sports Development Act 1997 is too general and too vague

One of the challenges faced by the Ministry of Youth and Sports is that the aforementioned Section 36, which requires the approval of the Office of the Sports Commissioner for a company to organize any and all sporting events, is too broad, too general, too vague and too impractical. For example, if I have a company which wants to organize a 3-on-3 basketball competition in my residential area (with participation fees and cash prizes), do I need to seek the approval of the Office of the Sports Commissioner? If every sporting event which is organized by a company needs this approval, the Office of the Sports Commissioner will be inundated with applications on a daily basis. Such a requirement may also increase the incentives for corruption and bribery in order to get approval for events.

For running events in particular, if it was a sports club such as Pacesetters Malaysia, and not a company, which wants to organize a local race, is permission from the Office of the Sports Commissioner still required? How about for an NGO who wants to organize a local charity run? What if a company was co-organizing an event together with a local authority, state government or federal government ministry? The current legislation is unclear on how to answer these questions definitively.

7) The Ministry of Youth and Sports needs to engage in an extensive stakeholder consultation before amending the Sports Development Act

As I’ve shown above, the issues regarding the regulation of running events in Malaysia are complex and multi-faceted. It is unfortunate that it required a serious accident to befall a runner in a so-called “International” race to capture the attention of the Sports Commissioner and the Minister of Youth and Sports. I have raised the issue on whether there is the need to have a special body to oversee racing events in Malaysia in parliament. I have brought up the role of the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Sports Commissioner in cancelled events such as the Malaysian Marathon.[5] I have passed the results of a survey I did among Malaysian runners which touch on some of these issues to Minister Khairy via his deputy, Datuk M. Saravanan, in parliament.[6]

What is needed at this juncture is for the Minister to have an extensive stakeholder consultation with race organizers, running clubs, the state and national athletics federations, the local authorities, the police, RELA officers and other influencers in the running community to decide on the best course of action (including relevant amendments to the Sports Development Act) to improve the quality of running events in Malaysia. Special attention needs to be paid to running as well as cycling events because the number of such events have exploded over the past 5 years or so and these events involve thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of participants.

What I hope WON’T happen is a knee jerk reaction such as forcing all running events which are to be held in the next few weeks or months to obtain approval in an arbitrary manner from the Office of the Sports Commissioner. Let us have an honest, open and fruitful discussion on how to improve the quality of running events in Malaysia so that we can minimize the chances of another such tragic accident from happening again.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang







Did the Minister of Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, give approval for the organizing of the recently cancelled Malaysia Marathon?

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang, on the 9th of September 2017

Did the Minister of Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, give approval for the organizing of the recently cancelled Malaysia Marathon?

The Malaysia Marathon, which was supposed to take place in Kuala Lumpur on the 1st of October, has been abruptly cancelled less than a month before the run. The cancellation was announced on the Malaysia Marathon website and facebook page on the 5th of September, 2017. On the 7th of September, the Minister of Tourism, Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, announced that the reason for the cancellation of the marathon was because the organizer could not deliver its initial promise of bringing 5,000 runners from China to participate in this run.[1]

Not surprisingly, Malaysian runners vented their frustration via facebook including the FB page for the Malaysia Marathon. At the time of writing, the FB posting for the cancellation of the race had received 371 comments, mostly negative.[2] The last-minute cancellation of running events is not a new occurrence in Malaysia. It has happened many times before which is why I presented the results of a survey of Malaysia runners to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, via his Deputy, Datuk M. Saravanan in parliament on the 1st of August 2017.[3] Understandably, the Minister has been busy with the 29th Kuala Lumpur SEA games and now, with the Paralympic games which starts on the 17th of September 2017. But this last-minute cancellation raises a few questions which needs to be answered by the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Youth and Sports, which are listed as the organizers of the Malaysia Marathon (together with DBKL and Wisdom Sports (M) Sdn Bhd).

Firstly, did the Minister of Tourism have any contingency plans if the race organizer, Wisdom Sports, was not able to bring the promised number of Chinese runners to Malaysia? The Minister should know that even for established marathons with more than 40,000 participants such as the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon (SCKLM) and the Penang Bridge International Marathon (PBIM), the number of foreign participants is far less than 5,000, what more for a race that was supposed to attract only 20,000 participants.[4] Did the Ministry not think about the welfare of the Malaysia runners who had signed up for this race, some of whom had booked train, bus and plane tickets to travel to KL from other states to participate in this race? Was the Ministry not able to attract enough corporate sponsorship to help with the expenses for organizing this race, even if there was an insufficient number of Chinese participants? The explanation given by the Minister for the cancellation of this event is not sufficient and shows that the Minister does not care about the welfare of Malaysia runners and tourists.

Secondly, the Minister of Youth and Sports should inform the public if he signed off on this event. Section 33 of the Sports Development Act 1997 states that “no person shall bid to host any international sports competition or event in Malaysia without the prior approval in writing of the Minister whose decision thereon shall be final”.

Since the Minister of Youth and Sports was listed as one of the organizers for this event and the international nature of this event involving so many Chinese runners requires the approval of the Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin should state if he did indeed sign-off on this race. If he gave his written approval for the organizing of this race, then he should explain to the public what sort of assurances he had that this race would not be cancelled if there were an insufficient number of participants from China. I do not think that this would be a valid reason for other international marathons such as the SCKLM and the PBIM to be cancelled. Why should it be a valid reason for an event like the Malaysia Marathon?

In addition, there were numerous other details concerning this Malaysia Marathon which indicated that the organization of this race was not in accordance to international sporting standards (which is required by Section 34 of the Sports Development Act 1997) including not publishing the details of the route for the 42km, 21km and 10km races, not publishing the amount of prize money and other prizes for the 42km, 21km and 10km races and for initially ‘mislabelling’ this run as being certified by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF)[5]. Was the Minister aware of all these potential shortcomings of the Malaysia Marathon before he signed-off and approved for this race to be organized?

The last-minute cancellation of a supposedly international marathon that included two prominent Ministries as its organizer leaves a shameful black mark on the running landscape in the country. If the Malaysian government cannot protect the welfare of Malaysia runners in a race called the Malaysia Marathon, then can we trust the government to protect the welfare of Malaysian runners in other races which are organized in the country?

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang





[5] The claim of the IAAF certification was later removed when it was questioned by members of the running community.

Sustaining Malaysia’s SEA Games performance

(This article can also be read at the Penang Institute in KL Column in the Malaysian Insight, 2nd Sept 2017)

AT the time of writing, Malaysia was leading the 29th SEA Games medal standings with 140 gold, 91 silver and 84 bronze. We have twice as many gold medals as second-placed Thailand. We demolished our previous record of 111 gold medals, achieved during our last hosting of the SEA Games in 2001.

This is an incredible performance and our athletes should be applauded for their efforts. But is this sporting achievement sustainable? Can our athletes go further and compete at the Asian and for some, the international level?

These days, sports is more an industry instead of the supposedly amateur undertaking it was pre-1990s. Beyond talent identification, there is now a whole other universe that includes financing, training and coaching, nutrition and competitions, just to name a few.

The public obviously looks to the government, specifically the Ministry of Youth and Sports, to chart the course for sports development in the country. In a small country like Malaysia, government funding for sports is essential especially when it comes to supporting our athletes with the greatest potential.

The ‘Kita Juara’ (We are Champions) programme was launched in 2015 with this specific purpose in mind. Chosen athletes are given resources and greater opportunities to compete at the international level. This was part of a long-term process to produce global champions beyond just the SEA Games.

But government resources are limited. Even UK Sport, the UK government’s organisation for directing sports development, was forced to make serious funding cuts for sports such as badminton, archery, fencing and weightlifting because of the lack of potential to win medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, despite receiving a massive £347 million from National Lottery proceeds.

This is where the various sports associations at the federal and state levels have an important role to play. Most people are not aware of the tremendous power wielded by these sports associations. In certain respects, they wield more power than the minister. For example, they hold the power to select those athletes who will represent the country, as well as providing the funding for selected athletes to compete in overseas competitions and be trained by national coaches.

The presidents of these sports associations are usually politicians and/or businessmen. Presidents who are businessmen are expected to fund some of the operational costs of running the sports associations while politicians are expected to raise the necessary financing through their connections. Post-SEA Games, these sports associations still have to find the money to fund their activities and to develop their athletes.

Every sport has different levels of public support. Apart from the football and perhaps badminton associations, whose sports already enjoy great public attention, the rest of the sports associations could do more to promote their own sport.

The level of public support affects the ability of these sports associations to improve their financial positions. For example, even though recreational running has become tremendously popular in Malaysia, as evidenced by the proliferation in the number of races around the country, the association in charge of athletics, the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF), does not have an updated Facebook page, let alone a functioning website.

Our track and field team performed better than expected by winning 8 golds, 8 silvers and 9 bronzes including a historic bronze in the men’s marathon and a SEA games record in the men’s hammer throw. Yet none of this was documented in the MAF’s Facebook page, where the most recent entry was in 2014. The supposed MAF website is actually a food and travel blog.

Likewise, the Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia (ASUM) does not have a Facebook page and its website has not been updated with the SEA Games performance results of our swimmers.

In a brief survey of 37 Malaysian sports associations which sent athletes to the SEA Games, only 21 have a Facebook presence (either a page or a group) and not all of these pages are active. Credit must be given to the Ice Skating Association of Malaysia (ISAM) and the Malaysia Basketball Association (MABA) for their active Facebook engagement and in showcasing the achievements of their athletes. Ironically, despite having a very social media savvy player within its midst, the FB page for the Royal Malaysian Polo Association (RMPA) does not seem particularly engaging or engaged.

Although having an active FB page is no guarantee of sporting success, it is an indicator of how engaged these sports associations are with their fans and the larger public. How likely, for example, are corporate sponsors willing to support these sports associations if they can see that there is very little public engagement or fan support behind these associations? It would be far more worthwhile for these corporate sponsors to approach individual athletes who are already public figures, rather than to support the associations which these individuals belong to.

The lack of an active social media presence also means that these sports associations are not doing much to grow their fan base by giving information on local competitions and profiling athletes within the sport. Again, going back to athletics, which I am more familiar with, there was hardly any publicity for the Malaysia Athletics Open, which took place just before the SEA Games, and is the premier track and field competition in the country.

There was probably more information circulating on  social media about  running events with mass participation, compared to the Malaysian Open for track and field. While track and field will never be in the same league as football or badminton as a mainstream sport in Malaysia, the fact that the federation in charge of promoting the sport does not seem to be doing its job only adds to the challenges faced by our athletes. Less money and support for the federation means less resources to hire good coaches and send our promising athletes overseas for training and competitions.

After the SEA Games hype, when the spotlight is no longer on non-mainstream sports, can our athletes take the next step to compete at the Asian Games in 2018 in Jakarta? Can our sports associations play a more active role in promoting their sports and garner more public support?

Let’s wait and see. In the meantime, I will be part of the cheering crowd at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium to enjoy the closing ceremony for this Sea Games and to celebrate Malaysia’s achievement!

Dr Ong Kian Ming is the Member of Parliament for Serdang, Selangor and is also the General Manager of Penang Institute in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Duke University, an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BSc in Economics from the London School of Economics.