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Vision 2020 And Beyond
The 2016 Rio Olympics brought Malaysians together as we rooted for our athletes. With it being our best showing ever, we wonder what lies ahead for Malaysia in the Olympics, particularly with the inclusion of new events like skateboarding, surfing and rugby.
The 2016 Rio Olympics ended in August and Malaysians were so caught up in the hype of it all seeing that we are still looking for that elusive first gold medal. We didn’t win the gold, but the heroic effort our Olympians displayed did the nation proud.
We did win our first gold in the 2016 Rio Paralympics (three in fact!), which left the nation euphoric. Congratulations to Ridzuan Puzi, Muhammad Ziyad Zulkefli, Abdul Latif Romly and all our athletes who represented the country so valiantly.
Moving on, the next Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Japan, in the year 2020. The International Olympic Council has already announced several new sports that will make their debut – some of these sports already have a niche but loyal following in Malaysia. Is it time to start putting serious thoughts about grooming future athletes in these new Olympic sports? We speak to several members of the sporting community to find out what they think.
Skateboarding has a long tradition of being a free-flowing rebel sport, being seen as more a lifestyle than an actual sport. Skaters are more interested in having creative freedom in their skating skills and living the life rather than having to perfect a routine in order to get points.
“The talk of skateboarding being in the Olympics has been going on for a very long time. Well, it looks like it’s finally happening. I foresee a lot of problems,” says Mariss Khan, a veteran Malaysian skateboarder.
He continues to explain that the way skateboarding will be judged really hasn’t been decided yet. There are several international organisations that have different scoring systems. And now, the decision is boiling down to politics.
Mariss is credible. He is the only Malaysian world cup skateboarding certified judge. He has judged at the Malaysian, Korean and Chinese X Games. He is the co-founder of Frontside TV, Malaysia’s premiere online skateboarding channel and he runs skateboard manufacturer Papan Skateboard Company.
He is however, from an older generation. The younger generation of Malaysian skateboarders see things differently. They see the Olympics as a way to legitimise the sport, even if it means a sacrifice in the individualism and freedom of skateboarding.
“Now, I can see a pathway to a career in skateboarding. It makes me feel like I can now make a living from the sport that I love,” says Muhammad Haziq Ilham, 20, a rising talent in the Malaysian skateboarding scene.
But after listening to Mariss harp on about the politics of skateboarding in the Olympics, he has a slight change of tune.
“I want to go to the Olympics. But if it means being controlled and restricted in the way I skate, that gives me second thoughts. I do want to go if it means I can hang out with other skaters from around the world, though!” laughs Haziq.
That’s just the point. Skateboarding is more a lifestyle than a sport. Skateboarders live for skateboarding. Their skateboarding friends have become family. They wear skateboarding brands and they eat and drink skateboarding related products.
“A lot of skateboarders don’t want it to be in the Olympics because it will kill the lifestyle. But now it is and we have to accept it. As skaters, we now have to make sure to protect it as best as we can,” says Ian Johan Ariff, another veteran skateboarder and journalist.
“But as far as Malaysia is concerned, we may not be represented in the Tokyo. What is definite is a ranking system to determine who qualifies for the Olympics. Our skateboarders are just too far down the international ranks to qualify just yet. It will take time,” he adds.
Surfing is a sport not much different than skateboarding, in the sense that it is known more as a lifestyle than as a sport. Many people surf for the joy of the waves and the sense of camaraderie among friends.
But it can be said that surfing has a little bit more structure when it comes to competitions. There are many surfing competitions and circuits that happen around the world and are properly sanctioned and administered.
“Surfing being in the Olympics is definitely a dream come true for me. This will push the sport to grow even further because it will then be recognised more,” says Fadil Hui, a Malaysian surfer who has been surfing since 1999.
Of course, he does see the challenges. Olympics is all about fairness and having a level playing field. That is something almost impossible to guarantee for surfing because it depends on the elements of weather and the ocean. Unless, it is done in controlled, man-made wave pools.
But this challenge doesn’t really concern surfers in Malaysia too much. Since the surfing scene here is so small, the main concern is to just get surfing to become more visible first. And by it being in the Olympics, hopefully, this objective will be met.
“We need people to know that surfing exists in Malaysia so hopefully more people will start picking it up. Then we can think about competing in the Olympics,” he says.
But Fadhil doesn’t think that it is totally impossible for Malaysians to be represented. He acknowledges that there is a small pool of local surfers who have traveled and competed internationally. In fact, they are even sponsored professionals.
Rugby was once in the Olympics many decades ago but it was removed in 1924. Then, the International Olympic Council decided to reintroduce it again in the 2016 Olympics. So come 2020 in Tokyo, rugby wouldn’t really be considered a freshie like skateboarding or surfing.
“Full on rugby will take too long to complete in the Olympics, that’s why the game is played following the rules of rugby sevens,” explains Ainol Ghazaly, a rugby World Cup branding consultant.
In the rugby World Cup where full-on rugby is played, there are 15 players to a team. Rugby sevens, as the name suggests, is played with seven men to a side, and this has been the chosen format for the Olympics.
According to Ainol, the main objective to have rugby in the Olympics is to turn rugby into one of the world’s more popular sports. And that’s why the sport’s international governing body, World Rugby, has been pushing and lobbying for it very hard.
“Rugby is really falling far back in popularity with many sports. Football and basketball, just to name a few. And we need the push that the Olympics can give,” he says.
Although there is a rugby World Cup, it still doesn’t have the traction the football World Cup has. This is mainly because it falls solely on the clubs and federations in the different countries around the world to ensure the growth of the sport.
“If it becomes an Olympic sport, then governments have to play a role because they will then be responsible to send a national contingent,” explains Ainol.
A country’s participation in the Olympics is always a matter of national pride. And when the government is involved, it can be made into policy and hopefully, we can see rugby programmes emerging in schools and public institutions.
Ainol observes that this is already happening in Malaysia, whereby a system has already been put in place by the sports ministry and education ministry to scout and develop rugby talent from as young as eleven or twelve years of age.
“Of course, more can be done. But it’s a step-by-step process. Now that the sport is in the Olympics, I have no doubt that it’s going to fly!” he smiles.
Here is a sport that Malaysia has been excelling in for quite a while, with Puvaneswaran Ramasamy being one of our notable world champions. Now a sought-after karate coach, Puvaneswaran has won medals at the Asian Games five times in a row, including two gold medals.
“This is a dream come true,” says Puvaneswaran on Malaysia’s now possible chances of winning an Olympic medal in karate. “When I was an athlete, I was hoping that karate would be in the Olympics and I wanted to win the first gold medal for Malaysia.”
Although Puvaneswaran feels that the country’s chances of winning an Olympic medal are good, he doesn’t want to get too ahead of himself. According to him, the current batch of athletes has to have the hunger and readiness to win. But for now, Puvaneswaran admits it’s just too soon to say. He also adds that, from his observation, Malaysia’s junior development programme isn’t good enough, as there are only about ten to 15 athletes in the programme.
“We can’t just be relying on too few world class athletes. In my opinion, we need to have at least five world class karatekas at any given period to strive for gold at the Olympics,” he says.
Even so, Puvaneswaran still has faith in the sport: “Karate has never failed us and Malaysia has won gold medals at the SEA Games and Asian Games. Now that it’s in the Olympics, let’s hope that we follow tradition.”
By Zan Azlee
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