KANGAR: The Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) are at their wits’ end on coming up with ways to popularise the sport to the masses in Malaysia.
The just-concluded 91st Malaysian Open was played out in a ghostly near-empty Tuanku Syed Putra Stadium in Kangar.
MAF president Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad blames the public’s apathy on the lack of a local superstar personality in athletics to draw the crowd.
“Badminton has Lee Chong Wei and squash has Nicol David. We don’t have anybody good enough to ignite the interest in Malaysian athletics,” lamented Zainal.
“Without support from the sponsors and government, MAF cannot do much. I hope our new technical director (Robert Ballard) can help us revive athletics’ fortune in Malaysia.”
Zainal’s argument, however, does not hold water as other athletics competitions like the Malaysia Games (Sukma) and the National Schools (MSSM) Championships can successfully attract the crowd.
The trouble with the Malaysian Open was that it was held in a low-key manner with almost zero publicity in the media and in Kangar.
Apart from several banners hung outside and inside the stadium, there was hardly any other way for people in Kangar to know that there was a competition going on.
The Perlis Amateur Athletics Association (PAAA) president Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim admitted that the organisers could have done a better job in creating awareness.
“There was a communication breakdown and nothing was done to bring in the supporters. On our part here in Perlis, we could have brought in busloads of schoolchildren to help cheer the athletes and liven the atmosphere,” said Shahidan, who is the former MAF president.
Zainal added that MAF had no choice but to hold the competition on a shoestring budget due to financial constraints.
The scoreboard was not switched on at all during the three-day meet, and all the results were still jotted and displayed in an archaic manner.
“We cannot compare (the Malaysian Open) with the MSSM and Sukma athletics meets because they are funded by the government. MAF are still sourcing for sponsors from the corporate sector. Ideally, we need between RM2mil to RM3mil annually for our development programmes and tournaments,” said Zainal.
On the competition front, high jumper Nauraj Singh Randhawa qualified on merit for the Incheon Asian Games in September by clearing 2.21m, 1cm higher than the qualifying mark.
Although they did not beat the qualifying marks, several athletes like Noor Amirah Nafiah (women’s triple jump) and Iskandar Alwi (men’s pole vault) put in impressive performances and are expected to be recommended by Ballard to the MAF and the Olympic Council of Malaysia’s (OCM) selection committee.
Of the five athletes bound for next month’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games, only two won gold in Kangar.
Hammer thrower Jackie Wong and Iskandar warmed up for the challenge in Glasgow by winning their events comfortably. Nauraj and Raja Nursheena Raja Azhar (women’s 100m hurdles) settled for the silver after losing to Syria’s Majd Eddin Ghazal and Indonesia’s Dedeh Irawati respectively.
High jumper Yeap Sean Yi, the fifth member of the athletics squad to the Glasgow Games, was not in action in Kangar. She is racing against time to recover from a back injury.