Tapping the lucrative global sports industry

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Khairy: “Sports development is much like building a pyramid; you need to start with a large talent or participation base.”Khairy: “Sports development is much like building a pyramid; you need to start with a large talent or participation base.”Khairy: “Sports development is much like building a pyramid; you need to start with a large talent or participation base.”

Minister of Youth and Sports Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar sees no inherent reason why Malaysia can’t tap the lucrative global sports industry worth USD620 billion (RM2.6 trillion), at least the sports where it has a competitive advantage in, such as badminton and squash.

“(Former Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister) Tan Sri Sabbaruddin Chik once said that the sports industry is an important one, a sentiment I wholeheartedly support. This is why I am working with various sports associations to bring in the big championships, training programmes and so forth.

“However, sports cannot rely on government alone; it requires the input of investments from the private sector; especially companies who do not merely see it as a form of CSR, but as a business opportunity with decent ROI,” he clarified.

Khairy said this during a recent #TanyaGomen session organised by the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and held at Menara CIMB concerning the future of Malaysian sports. He pointed out that in order to achieve this, a sporting culture had to be inculcated in Malaysia’s younger generations.

“Sports development is much like building a pyramid; you need to start with a large talent or participation base. Only then will you be able to build up elite athletes such as Nicol, Lee Chong Wei, Azizul and so on at the peak. And so I wondered if the participation base could be shrinking, and if so, why,” he explained.

According to the Minister, the adequacy of sporting facilities was not the issue – there were ample facilities whether in the rural or urban areas, and at the very least in the schools.

“Other nations which lack the level of our facilities have proven themselves on the world stage, as well. Nor does it have to do with a greater focus towards scholastic pursuits – if it did, our students should show an increase in academic achievement,” he continued.

Khairy believed it probably had to do with the changing interests of the younger generations themselves.

“Recently, the 2015 Malaysian Youth Index was launched, which measured various quality-of-life statistics of children and adolescents. It just so happened that we measured the spare time of those aged 15-30, and what they did during that time. Out of a maximum score of 100, usage of free time reached 93, but the participation in sports during that free time reached a score of only 68. The younger ‘Millennial’ generation was more interested in blogging, Web surfing and shopping than going out there and playing sports,” he quoted from the report.

The Minister also emphasised the fact that a Malaysian sporting and fitness culture would not only lead to revenue increases and job creation in skilled occupations, but it would also result in reduced government outflows in the long term.

“About 30%-40% of Malaysians keep themselves active in sports, as compared to at least 65% in advanced sporting nations. We have the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and other non-communicable so-called ‘lifestyle’ diseases in Southeast Asia. It’s not merely a question of us wanting the nation to be more sports-oriented, but being healthier. Otherwise, public health expenditure is going to go through the roof over the next few decades.”

“My goal is to make Malaysia a sporting nation, but when we don’t have a culture of sports – when the parents don’t encourage their children to take up sports or are themselves sedentary – then it becomes an uphill battle.”

As part of the session, the Minister entertained questions from the floor as well as via Twitter.

When asked about the possibility of having sports studies leading to sports scholarships and foreign exchange programmes, Khairy highlighted that there were already conventional scholarships for existing athletes who wish to further their education. “Having sports studies as an option after Form 3 as a form of ‘early intervention’ is definitely something that can be proposed to the Education Ministry,” he added.

Aside from sports studies, Khairy also agreed that turning Malaysia into a sporting nation meant advancing the use of sports medicine and sports science.

“When I took over as Minister, I told my people that sports science (such as done at the National Sports Institute), cannot be considered a mere support service, because it gives the impression that it’s not as important. But in sporting nations like the US, UK and Australia, sports science is an integral part of athlete preparations. The Sports Institute should not only be a clinic for sick or injured sportsmen. They (sports scientists) have to be part and parcel of the training process.”

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