The prevailing question on everyone’s mind is whether Malaysia can bounce back from their worst-ever Sea Games showing in Phnom Penh in May at the Hangzhou Asian Games.
Let’s stop making excuses, asserting that Malaysia are still a developing nation in the sporting world.
Numerous programmes have been introduced, with millions invested in developing athletes and providing facilities over the years to enhance Malaysia’s creditability in sports.
However, Malaysian sports officials consistently lower the bar when setting targets for multi-sport events.
The Asian Games will showcase some of the world’s best athletes from all regions vying for glory, and it provides an ideal platform for Malaysians to gauge their standards.
However, after failing to achieve the target of 40 gold medals in Phnom Penh, Malaysian sports officials have now opted for a “safe” target of 27 medals of any colour for their 289 athletes, a reduction from the 36 medals won at the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang edition.
This is undeniably embarrassing as people typically strive to surpass their prior achievements.
It signals a lack of confidence in the athletes who aim to make their country proud in Hangzhou.
Are they hesitant to set a bold gold medal target because there aren’t many events in which Malaysia excel enough to clinch titles?
Malaysian sports definitely face a critical juncture in Hangzhou.
Another failure following the debacle in Phnom Penh would be catastrophic for Malaysian sports ahead of the Paris Olympics next year.
The Hangzhou Games should serve as a platform for Malaysian athletes to make a statement, grab Olympic quotas in some sports and gain confidence before the Paris mission.
Instead, Malaysian officials will be anxiously monitoring their athletes daily in Hangzhou, pondering whether they can meet the target.
It is unbecoming for Malaysia to find themselves in this situation, given the country’s history of sporting excellence in some sports.
With the countless elite programmes implemented, Malaysia should be sitting among the top 10 sporting nations in Asia.
The question arises: who will be held accountable if Malaysia fall short of the target?
This scribe believes that not winning at least five gold medals in Hangzhou would be a significant embarrassment for a country that have produced world champions like Cheong Jun Hoong, Azizulhasni Awang, Nicol David and Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik.
Malaysia are targeting medals in squash, badminton, diving, track cycling, equestrian, hockey, karate, archery, athletics, sailing, sepak takraw, wushu and esports.
However, only the Ng Eain Yow-led Malaysian squash team have the pedigree to win some of the five gold medals on offer in Hangzhou.
In fact, the non-Olympic sport could be Malaysia’s saving grace at the Asian Games.
It is touch-and-go in hockey, sailing, sepak takraw, wushu and equestrian.
Forget about cycling. Without Azizulhasni Awang, Malaysia may win silver and bronze, but not the gold.
The same scenario plays out in diving, a sport struggling to replicate Jun Hoong’s world title feat in 2017 against the formidable Chinese divers.
Instead of building on that success, Malaysia continue to rely on veterans like Pandelela Rinong and Ooi Tze Liang.
While the Speedy Tigers are confident of reaching the hockey final and winning gold against likely finalist India, A. Arul Selvaraj’s side must not overlook the threats posed by South Korea, Pakistan and defending champions Japan.
Frankly, the majority of the 289 athletes in Hangzhou will likely be making up the numbers in their respective events.
However, it is hoped that these athletes, despite lacking medal prospects, will seize the opportunity to aim for national records or personal bests in Hangzhou.
Despite the low esteem in which Malaysian sports currently find themselves in, the contingent could receive a morale boost tomorrow when former world wushu champion Wong Weng Son competes for honours in the men’s Changquan final.
A medal, regardless of colour, will set the tone for Malaysian athletes to strive for excellence in Hangzhou.
Let’s enjoy the Games and hope our athletes will show their true colours and excel in their respective events.