Winning Isn’t Everything!
The running community was deeply shocked and perplexed at the recent news that the two staples of Track and Field tradition, namely the 10,000 metres and the Full Marathon (42.195 km) had been dropped from 29th Sea Games Kuala Lumpur 2017. Granted that Malaysians athletes have been struggling to compete with the more consistent track athletes from Thailand and the Philippines, ever since we were the Sea Games overall champion back in 2001. However, voluntarily dropping these 2 major athletics events is akin to giving-up hope all together, and it sends a chilling message to our distance runners that their chosen 10 km and Full Marathon events have no priority at the National and International Levels. Moreover, without any perceived and comprehensive national plan to identify and groom young national distance runners to compete internationally, the future of distance runners looks dismal and bleak for Malaysia.
Ironically, distance running events are becoming increasingly popular among the public, as we can see from the thousands of runners who turn-up every weekend to participate in fun runs, races and marathons, organised across the country. In fact, no other event promotes and reflects the popularity of running as much as the Fit Malaysia nationwide campaign which easily attracts 5,000 runners to each of their 10 km running events held in every State since its inception in 2015 under the Sports Ministry.
By its opposing two decisions and actions vis-a-vis Fit Malaysia and Sea Games, our Sports Ministry is essentially saying that distance running is good for the community, but not good enough to be featured at the Sea Games 2017.
When we snub distance running openly today, we are telling future champions and their coaches that they are not good enough to be the best. Yes, it is true that our runners are playing second best and even third fiddle to the International League of Runners, but to brutally turn our backs on these passionate athletes will create negative shockwaves in our small running nation. Even if our national and elite runners finish poorly in international competitions, we, as non-elite runners, will always respect and look-up to these homegrown elite runners as our own heroes because firstly, as runners ourselves, we know how much hard work, unwavering dedication and huge personal sacrifice are required to reach the top and compete with the best. Secondly, we appreciate the kind efforts of our elite runners who often go out of their way in order to personally inspire, motivate and guide us, mere mortals, to become better runners.
Who cares if our best Malaysian distance runners can never run as fast as the Kenyans?! In sports, instilling good ethical and moral values to the society is far more important than just winning. I cannot speak about other sports, but from my personal experience interacting with our local elite runners, I am proud of them for teaching and reminding us the following;
Sports is about improving oneself for the betterment of our community rather than to simply gain personal wealth and popularity.
Sports is about equality and fair play regardless of our differences in culture, race and economic background.
When the going gets tough, never give-up too easily. If we cannot run, we walk. If we cannot walk, we crawl.
How can we forget the unseen sacrifices made by our athletes, their coaches and parents over the many years in earning the right to represent the Jalur Gemilang on the world stage? To deny them an opportunity to compete for what they have trained for and dreamt about, seems unjustly cruel in the eyes of anyone with half a heart.
As one top elite runner, Edan Shah, confided to me, “Since I started my running journey a few years ago, I have had to finance my training and running activities myself with the help from a few private sponsors and friends.” Edan was clearly disappointed about the decision to omit his favourite distance of Full Marathon from the Sea Games 2017, “Obviously, it was a major setback, but I will continue to train hard, and hope that the Government reverses their decision.” Edan’s case is common among the many talented runners in Malaysia who have the potential to represent our country, but the lack of financial support and adequate expert guidance to develop their running talent has meant that they can go no further than perhaps win local races, barring the presence of any superior foreign competitors.
For the majority of the top part-time Malaysian runners, the income of their fulltime jobs, be it in the private or public sector, is needed to supplement the numerous costs and fees associated with striving to be a champion. There are no big prize monies or lucrative sponsorship deals available here. Now, as it stands, even their final incentive to represent the country is being taken-away. My educated guess is that the all-to-familiar dark forces of corruption, favouritism and cronyism are letting our athletes down, and the same can be said of our other sports too. I am not saying that everyone and everything associated with running Malaysian athletics are inept. However,there are enough of the few bad apples around to have seriously stifled and impeded the successful development and growth of national athletics for decades. Malaysia and her loyal citizens have the absolute right to expect better achievements in athletics. Malaysian tax-payers have the right to know exactly how every public cent is being spent to develop our sports to the highest level. Don’t you think so?
Meantime, on the ground, our handful of dedicated runners are continuing to strive for greatness, with or without the Sea Games, because they are driven by two things which money cannot buy – National Pride and Glory!
About The Author
Gus is the Founder of Running Toons and a HIIT Fitness Coach. As a sports writer, he has contributed numerous insightful articles to The Star newspaper, Running Malaysia magazine, Cycling Malaysia magazine, Cycling Evolution magazine, Swim Bike Run magazine and more. LIKE Happy Runner and follow Gus Ghani @IG.