On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Be transparent on sports project

WHAT'S the rush really? The Government seems dead-set on pushing through its plan to
build the controversial sports training centre in England despite criticisms
from the public.  

The unhappiness must surely be the cost, with Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang
putting the figure at RM490mil while Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun
Razak said it was not confirmed and that only a small sum was budgeted for the
first phase. 

Malaysians cannot be faulted for being angry. Assuming that Lim had inflated
the figure for political reasons, surely the public has the right to know how
much of their money would be used for the proposed project in Brickendonbury,
just outside of London. 

National Sports Council director-general Datuk Dr Ramlan Abdul Aziz earlier
said the RM490mil figure is a projection of the total cost the Government would
spend over the next 10 years, and not for building the infrastructure. In a
special press conference on Friday, he said no figure was ever mentioned in any
of their deliberations or decisions.  

"Whatever has been stated so far is merely speculative and from other
parties," he said. 

Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai also reportedly said
the figure from Lim "did not come from the ministry" while National Sports
Council's Philip Chan said it "is not definite" and "is likely to be lower". 

These contradictory statements have not helped clear the air. In fact, the
public would probably have more questions now and, as taxpayers, they should
rightly do so.  

The Government has a moral duty to tell us how the project will benefit
Malaysian athletes and how much money will be involved.  

We can assume that the project will not involve any purchase of land since it
will sit on a site belonging to the Malaysian Rubber Board, where the Tun Abdul
Razak Research Centre is located. The centre was founded as the British Rubber
Producers' Research Association (BRPRA) in 1938. 

Brickendonbury estate has a long and colourful history dating back to Saxon
times (approximately 500 AD) and has passed through many tenants, either leased
or let. During the Second World War, it was used to train agents and resistance
workers in industrial sabotage. 

The centre moved into the estate in 1974 and restored the mansion, which now
has elegant working accommodation, according to the centre's website, and the
grounds have well-built laboratories, library and development areas housing the
centre's work. It was given its current name in 1977. 

It sounds like a good place for our athletes, given its huge area. That means
the Government need only build the sports centre on that piece of land. If that
is the case, it would be helpful if the Government can, at least, show us what
the centre would look like, what kind of facilities would be available, the
staff cost and how much it would cost to maintain. 

The public must be convinced and, as an elected government, surely the
leadership must be sensitive to the wishes of the people. It is our money after
all, and at a time when we have to grapple with the increasing cost of living,
not many of us are in the mood to read about an extravagant project. 

We cannot be told to tighten our belts and change our lifestyle and yet have
to cough out our money on the multi-million ringgit project. That is something
we cannot accept. 

But half the battle would be won if the Government can justify the long-term
benefits of the so-called "high performance training centre". The public must be
convinced that having this sports centre will help Malaysians win medals at
international competitions such as the Olympics.  

From the bits of information that have come out, the proposed sports centre
is to groom and train our future athletes in a temperate country for temperate

That would, presumably, involve allowing selected sports persons to stay,
train and compete in Europe. It would be good if the Government can inform us of
the kinds of sports that have been identified to produce these elite Malaysian
athletes who will grab international headlines.  

We are not talking about winning gold medals in sports that involve four or
five countries, like badminton or sepak takraw, but real international
sports, since millions of ringgit would have been committed to the project. 

That must be the intention of the Cabinet Committee on Sports headed by
Najib. It is noble and ambitious. Besides putting up the building, which our
Government seems to be fond of, we would like to know the real plan – how to
make champions of Malaysians in the UK. 

It would be nice to know, just for argument's sake, whether the Socceroos
built a multi-million soccer complex Down Under and whether Trinidad and Tobago
committed their entire GDP to gear their players for the World Cup so they could
make the English players look like sissies.  

And certainly, the long-distance runners from Kenya did not have this kind of
RM490mil luxury. 

You don't need a sports expert to tell you that buildings do not produce
sportsmen. Instead, what you need are good planning, good strategies, good
trainers and committed athletes. Most of all, let's get real and put our limited
resources to sports that we can win. 

A good sports programme, beginning at school level, is essential because
producing champions takes time. Trainers, whether local or foreign, also need
time to build these talents. 

We cannot expect instant results after signing a foreign coach for a year.
More importantly, they should be freed from interfering politicians masquerading
as managers and officials. 

It might be cheaper to pick selected athletes in certain sports and have them
trained here and overseas. Squash player Nicol David, for example, has picked
Holland as her base and in the hands of a foreign trainer, who is more exposed
to newer techniques, she has progressed to be a world champion beater. 

Let's be realistic. Given our physique, the penchant for nasi lemak
and teh tarik and our humid weather, we are not going to win the World
Cup. We can bring Alex Ferguson to train our boys in a trillion-ringgit soccer
complex and we still won't win. Maybe we can beat the Koreans and Japanese.  

Neither can we compete against the Japanese, Fijians and Samoans in sumo
wrestling because we can never bloat up like them, even if we build a sumo
complex there. 

So, Malaysians might as well focus on shooting, bowling, lawn bowling, table
tennis, squash, golf, hockey, sailing and volleyball, where we have more
realistic chances of triumphing, even if not at the Olympics, at least at the
Commonwealth Games. 

There have been cynical remarks, especially on the Internet websites, on how
the proposed academy will benefit us. Some of the allegations have been grossly
unfair but the Government owes it to us to justify the project and provide the
costs. That's not asking too much.  

The Government must also explain the need for the 100m dash for a project
that would cost Malaysia a bomb. Surely, the Government must have good reasons
for the decision and Malaysians would like to know. That's the first hurdle that
the Government needs to clear.