The Malaysian sports scene is often weighed down by several factors, like the lack of appreciation of the sports industry, a not-so-sporting culture, and the role politicians (or their other halves) play in sports.
Often placed on a pedestal, politicians are glorified by sports officials as they are used as the ‘carrot’ to secure funds and the right eyeballs. Rubbing shoulders with politicians is also perceived as a way of elevating one’s status in society.
However, the BA of Malaysia (BAM) has taught us a valuable lesson, even without the national body realising it. Sports associations do not need politicians as patrons. Period.
Barely a month after the 14th general election in 2018, Twentytwo13 revealed BAM was looking to replace its patron Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.
In came Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who served as deputy prime minister during Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) brief stint in Putrajaya.
It’s been more than a year since PH collapsed. Yet, Dr Wan Azizah remains as BAM patron, as reflected on the national body’s website.
The urge to quickly replace Rosmah three years ago was due to her husband, former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s involvement in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd and SRC International scandals. It was also to “appease sponsors”.
Yet, the same rule does not apply this time around. Perhaps, BAM does not want to offend Dr Wan Azizah, and would prefer it if she expressed interest, on her own, to leave a sport she is not active in.
While the subject has been discussed openly by BAM, perhaps the office bearers finally realised that it makes no difference who the patron is. Or if there’s a need for a patron to begin with!
Sponsors are clearly unperturbed that someone from the opposition is BAM’s patron – the Pandan MP is married to Malaysian Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Despite the gloomy economy due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Yonex Sunrise, had in April, signed a five-year sponsorship deal with BAM worth RM55 million. In May, BP Healthcare Group signed a one-year deal worth RM5 million with the national body, while Celcom Axiata is BAM’s other big sponsor.
All BAM did was to bank on its shuttlers who are now preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. The current set of shuttlers may not be as big as former World No. 1 Datuk Lee Chong Wei, but they are prominent enough to be valuable assets that have helped BAM bring in the sponsors.
On March 11, 2020, I wrote that the current political uncertainty could serve as the best excuse for BAM, and other associations with patrons, to break away from tradition and fully embrace professionalism.
BAM has proven this theory right.
Sports associations should ditch the patronage mentality and just offer a free ticket or two to their favourite politician (or their other half) once sporting competitions are allowed to be organised again in Malaysia.