How about an ‘Olympic factory’ for Sarawak?

It’s going to be a journey. It’s not a sprint to get in shape.

Kerri Walsh Jennings, American beach volleyball player

We all know that education is the key to success. This has been stressed umpteen times by grandparents and parents to their children, teachers to their students and political leaders to children in their villages and longhouses.

We all know individuals who are better educated have the opportunity to secure better jobs and thus earn more money to rescue their families from poverty and improve their livelihoods and standards of living.

But after watching the Tokyo Olympics recently, I realise sports is also the key to success.

Individuals who win Olympic gold medals have the opportunity to improve the livelihoods and standards of living of their families.

Take for example, 14-year-old Chinese Olympic gold medallist, Quan Hongchan. Snacks, game machines and medical services started pouring into her family home after her victory. Her story of wanting to win the Games to support her low-income family and earn money for the treatment of her ill mother touched the hearts of many.

A hospital in her hometown Zhanjiang, South China’s Guangdong Province said it would provide a full range of medical services for her mother as well as her sick grandfather.

Three enterprises in Zhanjiang even offered to provide her with a house, a tuckshop and a bonus for her.

A local businessman offered cash of 200,000 yuan (RM130,349) to Quan’s family but this was rejected.

A sports academy discovered Quan when it recruited a group of freshmen to participate in a summer camp for diving. 

In September 2014, at the age of seven, she started her training. She joined the Guangdong provincial team in 2018. 

In 2020, at the age of 13, she won the National Diving Championship in the 10-metre platform event and joined the national diving team.

After watching the success of China and other countries in the recent Tokyo Games, there are definitely valuable lessons that Sarawak can learn from the nations.

Maybe, it is time for us to set up our own so-called “athlete factories” or “Olympic factories”. China has roughly a thousand such schools which cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars to run and maintain. Maybe, we should start with just one.

In China, children as young as six are handpicked for training. China’s Olympics system is focused on the best, brightest and youngest athletes.

One person who has long dreamed of Sarawak becoming a sports powerhouse in the country is Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah. He is not pushing for an Olympic factory but a sports school.

As far back as October 2017, Abdul Karim has been pushing for the establishment of a sports school. He believes it will help to produce high quality athletes who will catapult Sarawak to being a sports powerhouse. 

In his speech at the 3rd East Malaysia Coaching Symposium and Sports Science Seminar in Kuching then, he said: “I’m a little bit envious of our friends from Sabah, they have a sports school. We don’t have a sports school in Sarawak. The so-called sports school we have here in Tabuan (Jaya) here does not meet the criteria of a sports school. It is only equivalent to a boarding school.”

He said athletes from SMK Tabuan Jaya only received an allowance equivalent to what students of Maktab Rendah Sains Mara (MRSM) or boarding schools received.

The amount was lower than that given to athletes in Bandar Penawar in Johor or Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur, the two full-fledged sports schools in Malaysia.

During a Dewan Undangan Negeri sitting last year, Assistant Minister for Education, Science and Technological Research Dr Annuar Rapaee said a Malaysia Sports School (SSM) should be established in Sarawak to provide better facilities for students to excel in sports.

Dr Annuar said SSMs were fully equipped with facilities compared to State Sports Schools (SSNs).

“Therefore, we really need an SSM in Sarawak. In Malaysia, we have five of these schools — one each in Sabah, Terengganu, Pahang, Kuala Lumpur and Johor…,” he said.

It is understood that the state government has proposed to the Ministry of Education (MOE) to elevate SMK Demak into a full-fledged SSM.

Dr Annuar explained that SSMs were better equipped with sports science laboratories, proper gymnasiums, a flexible training schedule and more coaches, and they also had physiotherapists and nutritionists. 

So, Sarawak, what should we have? An Olympic factory or a sports school or a Malaysia Sports School?