PETALING JAYA: Malaysian woman sprinter Azreen Nabila Alias’ Tokyo Olympics experience on the track might last about 12 seconds – or a little longer.

The wild card entrant has not dipped below 12 seconds in the 100 metres this year and is ranked 1,448 in the dash by World Athletics (formerly IAAF).

Thirty-three women have made the entry mark of 11.15s while many of the remaining 23 runners have clocked below 11.5s in the run-up to Tokyo.

It would be a dream Olympics for Azreen, who has a personal best of 11.8s set in 2019, if she gets past the preliminary round and goes against elite Olympians in the heats.

It looks incredibly hard. The Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) admits she is not in the best possible shape to perform well, given the rustiness from the time spent away from the track due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many feel Azreen being in the Olympics is awkward because of zero international credentials in the 100m.

So, how did the 21-year-old underperforming athlete make Tokyo?

The university student is among many universality-place (wildcard) entries made available to countries that do not have athletes qualifying for the Olympics on merit.

Regardless of their timings, these athletes are entered into events such as the 50m freestyle in swimming or the 100m in athletics.

World Athletics offered the wild card to the MAF for a female sprinter, a fact that should dispel the notion that promising women jumpers or throwers were overlooked, said MAF deputy president Mumtaz Jaafar.

MAF needed a sprinter and Terengganu’s Azreen was their choice because national women’s 100m record holder Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli, who featured as a wild card at Rio 2016, is injured.

The other Malaysian representative is high jumper Lee Hup Wei, a two-time Olympian, who made the cut on the strength of his world ranking.

Several Olympians told FMT the practise of sending athletes to the Olympics under universality invitation needed a refocus.

“It should never be a case of the country needing somebody, anybody, to participate,” said Karu Selvaratnam who competed in the 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Karu said sports associations must be convinced their athletes would likely break the national record, improve their world ranking and maintain good performances after the Games.

“Athletes must go to the Olympics as the country’s best hope and produce a sterling performance. The essential thing is to have fought well,” said Karu, a former president of the Malaysian Olympian Association.

Azreen’s selection has also sparked a debate over wildcard athletes, who fail to make it past the preliminaries, being classified as Olympian.

Further, it is argued that “OLY”, the post-nominal letters granted by the World Olympians Association to athletes who have participated in the Olympics, should not be giveaways.

‘OLY’, used after an Olympian’s name, is a symbolic recognition of the years of hard work, dedication and perseverance taken to reach the highest level of world sport.

OCM president Mohamad Norza Zakaria says Malaysian athletes will be performing in Tokyo without prior high-level competition due to the pandemic.

Former OCM secretary-general Sieh Kok Chi said there had to be some justification for being a member of the rare “Olympian” club of role models whose exploits should inspire the nation.

He said a poor showing by an athlete could destroy self-confidence and cause embarrassment.

Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) president Mohamad Norza Zakaria feels with the Games about to begin soon, it is not the right time to discuss this matter.

“The whole nation should be behind our athletes, all of whom have their own KPIs set by both the ministry and their associations.There was no competitive environment due to the pandemic and we can only hope the athletes will perform well,” he said.