The Ministry of Youth and Sports needs to do more to improve the quality of running events in Malaysia

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 1st of August, 2017

The Ministry of Youth and Sports needs to do more to improve the quality of running events in Malaysia

The Challenge Putrajaya Half Marathon 2017 was initially scheduled to be on the 17th of April, 2017. The original poster promoting this event said that this event was supported by the Ministry of Youth and Sports (KBS) and also Perbadanan Putrajaya. The race has been postponed to the 1st of October 2017. The race organizers later admitted that they did not have the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Perbadanan Putrajaya. It is uncertain whether the runners affected by this cancellation have received the promised refunds.[1]

In 2015, the HRDF Half Marathon was cancelled.[2] Some runners have yet to receive their refunds – and this is a run organized by a government agency!

It is experiences such as these that prompted me to conduct a survey among the running community. The “Malaysian Runners Survey” was conducted using google docs.[3] 473 unique responses were collected over 2 weeks (from the 17th to the 30th of July, 2017). 331 of the respondents were male (70%) while 143 were female (30%). 354 respondents were over 30 years of age (74.8%), 114 respondents from 18 to 30 years of age (24.1%) and 5 were below 18 years of age (1.1%). Almost all of the respondents were Malaysia (457 out of 473 or 96.6%). Most of the respondents (374 out of 473 or 79.1%) had never won any cash prizes in a race.

Among the questions asked was one which tried to gauge the level of support for a special body to be set up by the government to monitor athletic events, especially races. 36.8% of respondents strongly supported and another 36.8% supports this proposal. The fact that a large majority (77.6%) of respondents supported or strongly supported this proposal shows that there is current dissatisfaction among the running community over the races which are being organized. Some of the comments reflect the desire to have better event organizers who will not ‘run away with the money’ or cancel races without any notice or reason given. Some of the comments reflect the desire to have better organized races with proper Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) so that the quality of races can be maintained at a high level. Some respondents also want this body to ensure that the entry fee for races remain affordable. This proposal was recently made by a runner, Juani Abu Bakar, and subsequently reported in some news outlets.[4]

When I was given the opportunity in the special chamber in parliament yesterday to bring up the proposal of a sport monitoring body, especially for races / runs in Malaysia, I was given a very cookie cutter reply by the Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, Datuk M. Saravanan. The reply referred to Section 34 of the Sports Development Act 1997 (Act 576) which refers to the use of recognized international rules and guidelines for competitions organized by a sports body.

It also refers to Section 36 of the same act which states that a company who is involved in any sporting activity, as may be prescribed by the Minister in the regulations, must apply for a license to operate by the Commissioner of Sports.

This reply ignores the reality on the ground. Firstly, nearly all of the races in Malaysia are NOT organized by an official sports body such as the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) or one of its affiliates at the state levels. Hence, these race organizers do not have to follow the guidelines as stipulated under Section 34 of the Sports Development Act 1997.

Secondly, it is not common practice for race organizers or companies to register themselves with the Sports Commissioner. Even if there are race organizers who register with the Sports Commissioner, it is unclear if there are steps currently taken to ensure that the quality of these races is of a sufficiently high standard or that refunds must be given back to runners if a race is cancelled or postponed.

If the Minister is really serious about improving the quality of races and protecting the well-being of runners, he should establish a working group with relevant stakeholders (sponsors, race organizers, event organizers, experienced runners from running groups) to lay out the necessary guidelines and procedures which can then be implemented under the Sports Development Act 1997.

The other findings from the Malaysian Runners’ Survey include the following:

(i)                  A majority of respondents feel that the it is increasingly difficult to find runs which are both affordable and well-organized, in the entry price range of RM50 and below.

(ii)                A majority of respondents feel that non-Malaysians should be allowed to participate in races in Malaysia and that they should be allowed to win prizes but with the condition that there is a separate category for non-Malaysians.

(iii)              A majority of Malaysians agree with bib-switching but with the caveat that the race organizers must be informed.

I have passed a copy of the results of the Malaysian Runners’ Survey to the Minister of Youth and Sports, Khairy Jamaluddin, through his Deputy, Datuk M. Saravanan, yesterday in parliament.

I urge the Minister to do more to ensure that the quality of races in Malaysian is maintained at a high level. As an athlete himself, I am sure that he would want to see the interest of runners in Malaysia protected and that more and more Malaysians will have access to affordable and high quality races in the country.

I applaud the Ministry of Youth and Sports for showing the way by organizing the Fit Malaysia run on the 12th of August, which is free of charge, and also for organizing the SEA games run in Putrajaya on the 19th of August, so that runners can also support our SEA games marathon athletes who will also be competing in Putrajaya on the same morning.

Dr. Ong Kian Ming
Member of Parliament for Serdang

Attachment 1: Malaysian Runners’ Survey, 30th of July 2017

Attachment 2: Jawapan Kamar Khas – Badan Pemantauan Acara Larian

Attachment 3: Letter to YB Khairy Jamaluddin on the Malaysian Runners’ Survey, 31 July 2017

[1] https://www.facebook.com/events/1693451187639577/permalink/1784785265172835/

[2] https://www.facebook.com/HRDF-Half-Marathon-2015-819245831478966/

[3] https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1fLzyuDKh1aPltpmuvbdgmCfj1Fqod17CvMuwU675MhE/edit#responses

[4] http://www.themalaymailonline.com/features/article/running-enthusiasts-call-for-monitoring-body

Axing selected athletic events at the 2017 KL Sea Games shows just how short sighted we are

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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

[1] http://www.themalaymailonline.com/sports/article/whos-to-blame-for-the-2017-sea-games-athletics-events-fiasco

[2] http://www.todayonline.com/sports/athletics-sea-games-could-be-under-threat?singlepage=true

[3] http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/athletics-at-sea-games/2546972.html

[4] https://www.facebook.com/edansyah/posts/1685159695100595:0

Open Letter to Khairy Jamaluddin

Open Letter to Khairy Jamaluddin

Dear YB Khairy,

As you know, I am a regular runner. I was a regular runner before I was elected as a Member of Parliament and hopefully, I will still be a regular runner when I am no longer a Member of Parliament. I run for many reasons – to keep in shape, to keep the added pounds away, to meet new running kakis, to train for races and to encourage others to exercise. You can often find me running around Lake Gardens when parliament is in session, in the Bukit Tunku and Seri Hartamas areas on weekends, in the Bukit Jalil Park or the UPM track near my current home, in Lake Valley in Bandar Tun Hussein Onn, at Taman Tasik Cempaka and the Section 15 track in Bangi (all in my constituency) and previously, in Taman Tun and Bukit Kiara, when I was living in Petaling Jaya.

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