Though many changes took place in Malaysian sports, there still is a sore point when it comes to the funding received by the national sports association (NSA).
This has been the bone of content ever since the National Sports Council took over the running of high performance sports in the country.
Either by design or genuine mistakes, the NSC has been concentrating too much on high performance sports and had left the development plans to the NSA’s to carry out.
But without the necessary financial resources, there was not much that the NSA’s could achieve. And the closure of the Core Sports Program is such a clear example.
Though more use could be made of financial rewards and incentive payments for athletes and coaches who reach their performance targets, this has not been the case, with exception of us trying to win gold at the Olympics. At time of writing Thailand has a gold to show with Vietnam a silver and Indonesia a bronze.
There should be a clearer assessment of whether the sport should receive public funding in the first place. Money is currently distributed to some of the richest sports. Much of this money is meant to be for development and not to cater for high performance athletes.
There is an important need to introduce a framework for funding and accountability.
And towards achieving this there are several steps that must be put in place and hence the NSC Board should explore these possibilities.
The first step in sports funding and must remain largely a voluntary process.
Therefore applicant ought to submit a completed NSA Sports Funding Eligibility Application.
The guidelines for seeking funding assistance must be made public and be listed and not left to the discretion of a single officer.
And more importantly the criteria must include all the requirements set out in the eligibility criteria as determined by the Sports Advisory Panel/National Sports Council/Sports Commissioners Office.
Once the application is completed and it is determined which NSA is eligible, an in-depth assessment process should carried out to determine at what level and under what condition the financial support is to be provided.
The assessment stage calls for data collection, in-depth questionnaires, and follow-up interviews to assess how each application scope of activities and performances contribute towards the National Sports Policy and if it satisfies areas such as excellence, participation, capacity building and interaction.
Excellence basically means past and current track records with an evaluation of the NSA’s programmes for future international success.
This process will determine if the NSA will qualify for sustaining program funding or project funding and may even go up to the extent of targeting the recipients of funding support.
The assessment is used to establish the annual funding range or its specific funding level, as the case may be.
The actual amount to be received by the NSA may vary subject to factors such as availability of funds, recommendations emanating form the annual review process as well as accountability requirements.
All NSA funding is subject to compliance with accountability to specific contribution terms and conditions.
This is to ensure that the government’s funding contributes to the achievement of the National Sports Policy goals and as such the progress of an NSA is measured over the course of the Olympic year funding cycle.
In addition to the clear guidelines there ought to be additional financial incentives.
By offering financial incentives, the government will make it clear that it is a powerful lever to drive change.
Maximum use should be made of funding agreements with delivery partners, to ensure that required outcomes and expected financial, operational and quality standards are met.
Good performance should be rewarded but poor performance should result in sanctions.
How does one ensure that all this is workable? Malaysia is unique as it has the Sports Development act 1997.
However statutory approaches should be used with care to guard against creating unintended consequences and restricting local flexibility and freedoms.
The authorities should start promoting best practice. And this includes standard setting, quality control and disseminating best practice are all roles that government can undertake.
This approach may not lead to an immediate change in those sports that are funded. Parts of it are already being addressed.
But if the NSC can take this process into account, and make it more transparent, resources will be better focused on sustained success in the sports most in need of support, most likely to bring benefit, and most likely to succeed.