Now that the 26th SEA Games in Palembang Indonesia is concluded, I must congratulate our Malaysian contingent for their outstanding performance. Our target of 45 gold medals was surpassed, and we successfully brought home 59 gold medals instead. Well done! This indeed is a positive and most encouraging development in our national sports and a demonstration of the 1Malaysia spirit at its best.
I am certain our athletes are now focusing on other upcoming meets, most notably the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Every competition that comes presents an opportunity for us to challenge ourselves to the limit, and most of all, to show the world what Malaysians are capable of.
Many countries with smaller populations than Malaysia have continuously produced world class athletes. I am sure most of us can name a few top-notch athletes and athletic teams who hail from countries such as Australia, the Netherlands, and Portugal, whose population numbers are below ours. Is it an impossible dream to believe that one day we will be able to do the same? Not just in producing more internationally competitive athletes, but also in nurturing an ecosystem that consistently produces athletes of high calibre.
The challenge however, not only lies on our current line-up of world-class athletes but also in ensuring that we have a future breed of topnotch athletes to fill in the shoes of Joshua Koh (fencing), Lee Chong Wei (badminton), Katrina Ann Hadi (synchronized swimming), Nicol David (squash) and Fatehah Mustapa (track cycling) when they retire in future.
I believe that this dream is quite possible, and that to make it a happy reality, there must be commitment by the Government and commitment by the Rakyat.
The Malaysian Government has made its latest commitment to invest in sports development through the 2012 Budget tabling. I believe that we must encourage a sports-driven lifestyle, not just as spectators and casual fans, but as active participants of sports. This is why the Budget has made allocations to building 150 futsal courts and 30 artifical-grass courts across the country. Not to mention the allocation to identify and train young athletes with the potential to compete internationally. We have enjoyed the successes of previous programmes that produced winning sports talents; we are committed to produce more.
The Government’s commitment alone however, does not suffice to put Malaysia on the world map of sports. The nation itself, the Rakyat, has a role in making sure that a vibrant ecosystem for sports development continues to exist and prosper for generations. Athletes cannot become their best without a nurturing environment. They depend upon the wisdom and guidance of coaches, therapists, nutritionists, even engineers and scientists to bring out the best of their abilities. A community exists at the foundation of an athlete’s success, providing him or her with the right tools and techniques to compete. While only a handful may rise to the top in their respective sport, it is thanks to the members of this community that they are able to do so. I hope more people will see the value of being a part of this community and help to create a thriving sports industry we can all be proud of.
The global environment today shows that as life expectancy and urbanisation continue to increase, more people are gravitating towards a healthier lifestyle. In a report released earlier this year, Global Industry Analysts, Inc. indicates that the world sports and fitness apparel market stands to grow up to US$126.3 billion by 2015, with fastest growth potential in the Asia-Pacific region. As more people, Malaysians included, step into gyms, jogging parks and swimming pools, the demand grows for facilities and services dedicated to health and fitness. There is huge potential for Malaysians to take up sports-related activities not just for recreational purposes, but for economic purposes as well. I encourage you to seize these opportunities.
I do believe that we can one day be mentioned alongside other sporting nations for the triumphs of our heroes in athletics. In fact, I believe we are already on our way towards this achievement. But we must remember that such triumphs are not achievable without the collective and dedicated efforts of many. If we truly are a nation devoted to sports, then surely we can prove ourselves not just in cheering on our current favourites, but also in nurturing new ones. A lasting sports legacy that reflects our nation’s strong fighting spirit, perseverance, and unity is surely worth more than its weight in gold.