Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin: ‘Sport Molds and Unifies a Nation’
Your honor Mr. Robert C. Campbell, Chairman of the Board of Trustees; Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich, President and CEO of the USSA; Distinguished guests; Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is a great honor for me to be here today to receive an Honorary Doctorate from the United States Sports Academy. Indeed this will be a moment I shall cherish and I would like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Rosandich for his most generous words. I believe this honor is not just bestowed upon me as a single person, but to my colleagues and friends I have worked with over the many years. Behind all this of course, my wife and family who have been a source of inspiration for without them, I doubt I shall be standing where I am today.
Sports have always been a passion of mine; squaring against someone on the badminton court in my younger days used to take up some of my time. Right up till today, the passion remains albeit on the greener fairways in the form of golf, which is notably therapeutic in its effect amidst the stresses and rigors of work! But over the years, I am convinced that sports is able to play an important role in not just developing oneself, but its multiplier effect on molding and unifying a nation.
As sports, like music, is color blind, playing sports with friends of different races will help unite people of different creed and color. So much so, supporting a national team regardless of racial identities of its players will also enhance national unity. Malaysians cherished the moment when our athletes Lee Chong Wei and Pandalela Rinong won medals in the 2012 Olympic Games. Malaysians of all races stand united to support our national team, setting aside all differences, political or otherwise. It is indeed one of the proudest moments in the history of our nation. This of course, is in addition to other gems such as Dato’ Nicol Davids who now holds a world record of being the world champion in squash for (8) years consecutively!
Sports therefore a potent unifying force especially in a multiracial country like Malaysia. With all its uniqueness and diversity, Malaysia stands to benefit not only from the best talents among its multiracial population, but also from policies that are tailored to make sports as a means to promote and strengthen national unity.
In this regard, Malaysian schools have been the test bed for national unity. Pupils of different races-the Malays, the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, the Chinese, the Indians and other races-participate in sports activities, interact with each other, and develop high spirit of camaraderie as fellow Malaysians. The Malaysian model of education policy, which regards sports as an important component of a holistic education, will produce well-rounded individuals imbued with a strong sense of national identity. I believe with the right policy that attaches importance to sports as a unifying force, we can leverage on its good will to build a more peaceful, united and resilient nation.
There is much that sport can do in inculcating values, expounding leadership, nurturing teamwork and instilling a sense of camaraderie cutting across religion, ethnicities and social backgrounds. In short, sports are important components of nation building. Beyond all this, sports can undoubtedly contribute towards a healthy nation of Malaysians which in turn leads to greater productivity.
Ladies and gentlemen, post-independence, Malaysia inherited various games brought upon and left by the British such as soccer, cricket, hockey, rugby and athletics. This influence also brought about a structure for organized sports in Malaysia. Sports clubs and associations were formed and competitions were organized at various levels. It didn’t take long before Malaysian athletes performed in their first ever Olympics in Melbourne in 1956. Since then, the Malaysian flag has adorned every Olympic Games except in Moscow 1980. Our record shows that Malaysia has won 2 silvers and 3 bronze to date, whilst the gold still remains elusive. Maybe this is something that the USSA could help us out in before we grace Rio de Janeiro in 2016?
On the regional front, Malaysia is a founder member of the South East Asian (SEA) Games. For those of you unfamiliar, basically it is a competition incorporating many games hosted among 10 member countries biennially on a rotation basis. At a continental level, Malaysia is also a regular in the Asian Games held every 4 years. As a member of the Commonwealth, Malaysia feature regularly in the Commonwealth Games which is also held on a 4 year cycle.
Taking sports from the level of kicking a football in the sandy village grounds to bricks and mortar in the form of a stadium requires thoughtful planning and consideration at all levels. However, it is not only about physical development but honing the necessary skill sets and competencies with the right attitude and mindset among Malaysians is equally if not more critical. This arguably poses the greatest challenge if Malaysia wanted to achieve international success from just being a village champion or as they say in Malay, ‘Jahuh Kampung’. Nonetheless it was a good starting point for me, not realizing there was more to come than meets the eye!
When I was appointed Youth and Sports Minister in 1995, Malaysia had already come a long way; winning the badminton Thomas Cup in 1992 and performing admirably in the SEA Games. And I note Dr. Rosandich’s contribution to this progress as one of the previous coaches to the Malaysian team which on record today I shall pay homage to. A persona thank you to the President for a job well done!
As such, the nation’s expectations were high running up to the Commonwealth Games in 1998. As Minister in charge with everything ‘sports’ in Malaysia then, I was appointed chairman of the executive committee tasked to organize the Games. I realized that planning and organizing such an important event requires rigor and attention to detail. Every aspect has to be tip top and no operational stones left unturned. Not only the hardware-sports infrastructure-must be ready in time, the software-that is our athletes- has to be as primed as prime can be. All the more because they will be performing in front of their home crowd.
Malaysia’s best performance previously was winning 2 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze medals. With all the dedication and commitment, the16th 1998 Commonwealth Games marked a breakthrough in Malaysia’s performance. Breaking all previous records, Malaysia won 10 gold, 12 silver, and 14 bronze medals. Looking back, I felt honored to be given the chance to be part of leading this charge with the full support of those in the Ministry then. Suffice to note that the 1998 Commonwealth Games left quite a number of legacies in particular the National Sports Complex, and it gave Malaysians the confidence to become shrewd event organizers and compete against some of the finest athletes in the world.
Fast forward to 2009, another critical portfolio knocked on my doorstep in the form of the education ministry. Being the ministry responsible related to human capital development, it dawned upon me that the human spirit has tremendous capacity in absorbing what comes by whether in the classroom or the activity field, which include sports. One particular aspect that I noticed before assuming the job is the notable lack of sports activities in school as compared to my school days. I noticed my son did not go back to school in the afternoon to practice as I did. In the earlier days, we blamed it on too much television or video games such as Nintendo, but today we are surrounded by a multitude of gadgets, computers, and all those paraphernalia. How much the world has changed indeed! Nevertheless, there is no reason to not reflect and improve upon our shortfalls whether individually or collectively.
For some reason, Malaysia’s education system has veered towards getting a string of A’s and not much else. Parents were also swept by this wave and we do not blame them for reasons they themselves are not in control of. Getting scholarships were one of them, Government and private sector sponsors normally attach a significant number of A’s as the main criteria. The effect of this then trickled down to how school principals and teachers managed their teaching, learning and timetabling. Periods for physical education were replaced with study and drilling sessions to face the various assessment, test and examinations. In short, the system became too exam oriented. Ironically, this was against the spirit of the national education philosophy which stresses on a holistic mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and development.
In order to revive the culture of sports in school, I introduced the policy of 1 Student, 1 Sport in 2010. The objective of this policy is to ensure that every student is given the opportunity to participate in at least 1 sport in school. Certainly after a lull, the re-culturization of sports in school will no doubt have implementation challenges such as having qualified teachers in physical education, amenities such as playing fields and courts, equipment and others. It also requires cooperation from not just the Ministry, but other related agencies, entities, individuals and even the private sector. I must admit that this policy has its fair share of ups and downs because for a number of years, sports was sidelined and considered not important in a typical school’s calendar.
Nonetheless, like everything worth aiming for in life, this will be a continuous journey which I hope will culminate in more successes on the wide scope of national integration, unity and social cohesion besides contributing to the nation’s standing in the sporting world.
Ladies and gentleman, Malaysia has had a long and successful bilateral relationship with the United States of America encompassing virtually every sphere including politics, economy, trade and education. I believe these can be further strengthened, in particular the area of sports education where the US Sports Academy can play a critical role moving forward. Building upon our current joint program in training 1,000 teachers in physical education, it would perhaps be appropriate to continue with similar programs but with improvements and greater focus into specific areas such as sports coaching, sports sciences, sports therapy and safety.
For the benefit of USSA as a renowned sports academic institution, I would like to state that Malaysia’s education system is at a cross-road. In 2012, I commissioned a comprehensive review of the national education system cognizant that our vision of achieving a developed status by 2020 is only eight years away. We have analyzed thoroughly where we stand through experts both of local and international repute, also involving large engagements with thousands of Malaysians as individuals, parents, groups transcending all ideologies and political affiliations. We hope to take Malaysia, through a detailed and systematic blueprint and roadmap to be launched in 2013 from where it currently stands on various international student assessments such as TIMSS and PISA to the upper echelons in the next 10-12 years. For this I welcome the USSA to indulge in the preliminary blueprint, which is currently on the Ministry’s website and perhaps offer your thoughts on how we can improve the system, in particular the role of sports and physical education in molding the future leaders, movers and shakers for Malaysia.
At this stage, I realize my life has seen a myriad of unexpected twists and turns, full of detour and compromises, navigating ambiguities, smelling success and facing shortfalls. Standing on this rostrum today is something I never had thought would come my way as I reflect my university days achieving the Bachelor’s degree from University Malaya in 1970. Then again, I never thought I would enter politics what more rising to the Deputy Premiership which has come to pass. But what I am proud is that for the last four decades, I have been given the opportunity by God-Almighty to make a difference to people’s lives. I too have learnt much from others, enriching my soul, broadening my perspectives, helping me view the forest from the trees. I have plenty more to tell, but as time is of the essence, let it be for now.
This auspicious day will be a bold maker among the many markers in my life’s journey. Bearing in mind that a doctorate is normally attained after years of intense academic study coupled with high emotional perseverance makes this even more momentous. I am sure this is something the distinguished academic fraternity in this hall can attest to. With these reflections in mind, I humbly accept this international honorary doctorate which you have so graciously bestowed upon me.
Editor’s Note: This speech was delivered by His Excellency Tan Sri Muhyiddin Hj Mohd Yassin, Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, in acceptance of a 2012 International Honorary Doctorate Thursday, Jan. 17 from the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, Ala. To read more about the Academy’s honoring of Muhyiddin, see the Academy’s story about the event in News & Events.