BY TONY MARIADASS
KUCHING: If only the other states’ sports councils and state governments in the country can emulate Sarawak, Malaysian sports will be placed on a firm footing for the future.
Sarawak is the one State that just do not sit round waiting for handouts from the Federal Government. It initiated many sports programmes on their own.
Yes, they do get assistance from the Federal Government through the National Sports Council’s branch in Kuching, but it is the action-orientated and foresight of the State Sports Council headed by the Minister of the Social Development and Urbanisation Ministry, Dato Sri William Mawan, that has put sports programmes for Sarawak in place.
However, Sarawak’s sport prowess is not recent. Sarawak produced top level athletes as early as the 60s when Kuda Ditta became the first Sarawak-born athlete to qualify for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Sarawak’s real prowess actually made its mark starting from the late 80s.
Much credit of Sarawak’s rise can be attributed to the hosting of Sukma for the first time here in 2000.
I was there personally as a guest of the Sarawak Sports Council for the pre-Games tour and I covered the Games eventually.
Sarawak emerged as Sukma champions for the first time that year and it was no surprise seeing all the work they had put into the preparation. It was one of the best Games organised and Sarawak raised the bar for the rest to emulate.
The Games also saw sports facilities in the State being improved tremendously. It was an essential ingredient for sports to grow.
Not only had Sarawak emerge as overall champions, but they did better by continuing with their commitment towards excellence in sports, especially at the youth level.
It cannot be denied that the setting up of the Sarawak State Sports Council under the National Sports Council Malaysia Act 1971, Schedule ll (amendments) 1979 which was officially established on October 10th 1985 by the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, was what set Sarawak sports in motion.
Among the Sarawak athletes who have done the State proud include the likes of Salomon Ismanto, Bujang Taha, Ballang Lasung, Gladys Chai, Albert Blassan, William Yeo and Suhali Yusuf.
Sarawak’s next generation of athletes emerged with the likes of Jong Nyan Chong, Jessica Lau. Lee Chiew Ha, Suhari Salem, Mazlan Wahid, Shafie Ali, Jackson Ting, and Jonathan Lim.
Among the more famous names to emerge in recent times include Watson Nyambek and Sapok Biki.
Watson has the proud record of having broken the national record for the 100m in 10.46 seconds set by Datuk Dr Mani Jegathesan, when he clocked 10.33s, while Sapok did the nation proud by becoming the first Malaysian ever to win a gold medal in boxing at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Without doubt, Sarawak has an abundance of talent. The question is: who has the task of spotting these talents and nurturing them into international athletes.
Sarawak is certainly not sitting around doing nothing and hoping for talent to emerge.
They have always given sports priority and work hard at it with constant updating in systems, strategies, knowledge and improving sports facilities.
Having realised their initial vision to become a sports powerhouse by 2010, they are now embarking on the journey to the next level to become even more prominent by 2020.
The most recent effort is the appointment of the Australian Business Centre (ABC) as consultants for the State’s Sports Development Master Plan Study in their efforts to become a national and regional sports powerhouse by 2020.
The project involves formulating a comprehensive long-term strategic plan for the State immediately running up to 2020.
More importantly, the State has realised that the move to the next level requires a professional setup and management.
The development programme will involve 40 sports associations and that is a huge task at hand.
It will be two prong-attack where besides strengthening the potential high performance sports and looking into proper management, maintenance, promotion and marketing of all existing Stadias and sporting facilities, the future is given equal emphasis with greater grassroots programes and participation, especially at schools.
Private sectors and non-governmental bodies will also be roped in for the State agenda and their involvement, especially in sponsorships will play a key role in the extent of the success of this vision.
Already sports like tenpin bowling and soccer have good programmes in place.
While a national training centre has been set up here for ten-pin bowling, with former national bowler, Jackson Ting in-charge, the Sarawak Football Association, have recently launched a long-term development programme involving schools.
Soccer also has former soccer coach and manager, Alan Vest, from Australia coming regularly as a part-time technical director, to conduct coaching courses to upgrade the level of coaches and impart the latest knowledge on the game.
Diving will also have a Centre of Excellence in place later this year and this recognition of Sarawak’s prowess in the sport.
In the past, Sarawak in their eagerness to upgrade sports in the State, have made some mistakes in engaging the wrong people, but they are certainly wiser and moving in the right direction now.
Other states had better watch out for Sarawak. It is already making an impact at national level in various sports.
The underlying factor in Sarawak’s success story is that they always have long-term plans and have more often than not, got the right people to chart their upward trend.
Sarawak certainly has the right attitude for sports and their persistence to excel, will certainly be seeing many more athletes from the Land of the Hornbills soar to greater heights and do the State and nation proud.
Keep up the good work, Sarawak. Then you will definitely be an example for many states to emulate!