When you talk about sports with Malaysia Prime Minister H. E. Najib Tun Razak, baseball and American football doesn't come up with conversation. There weren’t any basketball brackets to talk about either. Malaysians have different sports likes than North Americans. Najib has a large interest in sports as he was Malaysia's Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports and then the Minister of Youth and Sports. Malaysia is working with the Mobile, Alabama-based United States Sports Academy and T. J. Rosandich to position the country into a more visible role on the global sports stage.
Malaysia lost to New Zealand 2-1 last November in the qualifiers final for the 2010 (Field) Hockey Finals. Malaysia also failed to make the cut in 2006. Hockey is one of Malaysia's major sports. Malaysia also failed to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup (in soccer). There is a 13-team Malaysia football (soccer) league. Formula 1 racing is a major interest for the government and for Malaysians. The Malaysian government is pouring a lot of money into Formula 1.
Upgrading Malaysia's sports program is a priority for Najib.
"We didn't qualify for the (FIFA) World Cup, so we will follow," said Najib. "We have a lot of soccer fans in Malaysia, in fact soccer is the most popular sport in Malaysia and the people are eagerly awaiting for the World Cup."
The FIFA World Cup is the world's most important sporting event, far eclipsing the Olympics. In 1969, a qualifier for the World Cup sparked a four day war between El Salvador and Honduras. The World Cup is a life and death experience.
In Malaysia, it is no different than most of the world. The World Cup takes on urgency even if Malaysia is on the sidelines. Malaysia has never qualified for World Cup play in the country's history. The national team has not done well in recent international matches.
"I guess we are realistic and our standards have not reached a level," said the Prime Minister. "But we are hoping that one day we will qualify."
This year's team lost a qualifier for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup to the United Arab Emirates in January and in three friendlies this year, the team won one, lost one and had a draw in another match.
Building a national football team that qualifies for the World Cup may take some time and require money. A bribery scandal in 1994 hurt the sport and it appears that Malaysians like watching European teams on TV. But there is more to Malaysia sports interest than World Cup.
"Football, badminton, hockey, golf and some of the other individual sports like archery, cycling, contact sports," said the Prime Minister."
Malaysia has a Ministry of Sports which falls with the policy of most countries in the world. The United States is one of the few countries without an "official" sports office. Funding for Malaysian sports comes from a variety of sources however it appears that the Malaysian government is the primary source of revenue for sports in the country.
The Ministry of Sports predates the 1963 formation of Malaysia.
The official history according to the Malaysian government explained the need to have an office overseeing sports. "The Ministry of Youth and Sports was incorporated in 1953 with the formation of the Culture Division under the Department of Public’s Welfare. The Culture Division was given the responsibility to handle all matters pertaining to Malaysia’s youth.
"Later in 1964, the Culture Division was transferred under the Ministry of Information. At the same time, a Youth Division was formed under the same Ministry to handle and encourage the growth of associations involving youth activities. A Sports Division was also formed under the Ministry of Information.
"The Ministry of Youth and Sports was only formed on May 15, 1964 in conjunction with the National Youth Day of that year. In 1972, the Culture Division was established and Ministry Youth and Sports was changed to Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports until 1987, when the Culture Division was transferred under Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism. With the transfer of the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports reverted to its original name of Ministry Youth and Sports until today.
Ministry of Youth and Sports (MYS) was given the mandate to implement the policies of the Malaysian government, particularly in the areas of Youth and Sports development."
According to the official website of the Ministry of Tourism for Malaysia, "Malaysia is increasingly and actively promoting itself as an organiser and host to various world-class sports events and recreational activities with the aim of becoming a major sports tourism destination in the Asian-Pacific region."
Malaysia hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games, Formula 1 Championship, the F1 Powerboat Championship and the La Tour de Langkawi. There are about 250 golf courses in the country. The plan is to build on those events.
"(Sports is funded) partly from the government, partly from sponsorship and partly from the general public," said Najib. "Every sport is considered high priority in a sense, if you are likely to win medals, then the level of support from the government is higher. If a sport is not doing too well then it is lesser. So we got three sources.
"One from the government, one from sponsorship and one from the general public."
Malaysia's annual budget puts millions of dollars aside money for sports. Najib is hoping the investment will pay off by making Malaysia a world sports destination.