KUCHING: Sarawak can use their own sports schools to meet modern-day demands in producing good athletes provided the system is constantly evaluated and upgraded, former state judo coach K.Thevaraj suggested.
Even the premier sports schools in the country like Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur and Bandar Penawar in Johor had their flaws but in the absence of a better system, theirs were presently still the best to promote sports in the country, he acknowledged.
According to Thevaraj, who is helping Malaysian Judo Federation on technical things like coaching and competitions since leaving here a year ago, the biggest setback for Sarawak athletes was the lack of a proper sports support system that allowed them to train without interruptions from education and work.
This problem, he felt, could be overcome if a sports school like the one at Tabuan Jaya in Kuching could be upgraded to be on par with Bukit Jalil or Bandar Penawar.
He stressed that apart from training facilities, it was important to have an understanding with local institutions of higher learning to take in students and allow them to continue training at the same time.
By his reckoning, building up an athlete for a particular sport normally starts when he or she is in Form One.
It would take six to 10 years for them to mature but they still could quit halfway without a strong support system in place, he said.
In Japan where Thevaraj spent eight years training as a coach, the promotion of sports is ideal as all the schools there are basically sports schools.
“In Japan, you don’t have to write letters to different ministries to apply for sports assistance. There is a proper system to support athletes in the course of their training.
“The sports curriculum is incorporated into the education system but it’s different in Malaysia. You can represent the country in any sports as a top athlete but there is no guarantee of future prospects,” he said.
Thevaraj noted that in Malaysia, there were three ministries involved in the promotion of sports – Youth and Sports Ministry, Education Ministry and Higher Education Ministry.
“But they don’t work in tandem. You have to write to each one to get, for example, a supporting letter to apply for a place in an institution of higher education.“ In Japan, this comes under one ministry – Education Ministry. Primary, secondary and higher education as well as sports science and technology are all under one ministry. They are able to work together as a cohesive unit in promoting sports.”
He agreed that Malaysia might not be able to come up with a better sports system than the US or Japan but felt the Malaysian sports schools were the best answer to promoting sports in the country, given the situation.
He pointed out that while Sarawak had a sports school at Tabuan Jaya, it catered for only two sports — football and athletics — while Bukit Jalil or Bandar Penawar covered all the sports.
“Still, it’s better than nothing. The main problem for Sarawak athletes is having to go to the sports schools in the Peninsula which are far from home. So it’s better to improve the one in Kuching … or the one in Miri.”
Thevaraj said Sarawak could work out their own system, reiterating strongly this must include an understanding with the local universities on intake of student athletes after they finished secondary education.
Citing the heart-rending ordeal of state judoka Steffi Wong, he said despite being a state Sukma athlete, a silver medallist, a junior national gold medallist and a senior national athlete, she still failed to get into Unimas.
She wrote letters to Sarawak State Sports Council (MSNS) and Education Ministry but to no avail.
Eventually, she had to go to India for her higher education … and cut short her sports career.
Thevaraj, who will be leaving for Hungary on a four-month coaching course, said very few young athletes in Sarawak continued their sports career because the system did not encourage them to do so but for a start, Sarawak could add more sports (apart from than football and athletics) to its Tabuan Jaya sports school.