Almost as many officials and observers as athletes for the Games

By Rajes Paul, The Star

PETALING JAYA: The SEA Games are heaven sent for Malaysian sports junket junkies and there are many of them.

Officials, and so called observers, will be taking the opportunity to go on a holiday at the taxpayers’ expense. Of course several of them are bona fide delegates like the coaches, medical staff and others, but do we really need 261 officials accompanying the contingent. And that does not include the 338 others – VIPS and observers – going for the Games.

Malaysia will have one of the largest contingents at the Games in Jakarta and Palembang starting this Friday. The 869-strong contingent is, in fact, the largest to particiapte in the biennial regional Games outside of the country.

There will be a total of 608 athletes, 253 of them under Category B (which means they are paying their own way, and 261 officials – a ratio of one official for every 2.33 athletes.

But it is the number of the supporting cast – the biggest ever for a Games – that raises the eyebrows.

Accreditation cards have been issued for 279 observers and 59 VIPs swelling the number of non-athletes to a staggering 599. The question is how many from this group are making the trip at the taxpayers’ expense?

The VIPs alone outnumber the 48 people from Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) and National Sports Council (NSC), who will actually be doing some work at the secretariat in Jakarta and Palembang.

While Category B athletes have to fork out their own money to prove themselves at the Games, some of the officials and observers will be on an all-expenses paid holiday.

In the observers’ category, there are genuine supporters like those from Famemas (20) and Telekom Malaysia (27), who are sending a big group to cheer on the Malaysian athletes at their own expense.

But what are auditors and State financial officers doing with the contingent? A study tour perhaps or maybe a shopping trip?

There are many sports officers from the states in the observers’ list. What they will be doing is anybody’s guess. Wouldn’t the money be better spent on the young athletes to gain exposure under Category B?

There are 45 observers for athletics – more than the 14 officials who will be looking after the 48 track and field athletes.

OCM general secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, while lauding the enthusiasm of the supporters, said they should not use public funds to go on a junket to the Games.

He said that it would do a world of good to the Games’ profile if more supporters show interest in the biennial event. And one should not question their intention if these people pay their own travel and accommodation to catch the athletes in action.

“It is good if more people are there for the Games. It will draw sponsors and boost the economy of the host country,” said Kok Chi.

“We at the OCM do not object if sports enthusiasts want to go for the Games but they must be transparent about their funding. We do not condone people using public funds without proper justification.

“OCM are all for the effort to build a culture of having supporters for the Games. In Europe, people save money to make their way to support their national or favourite teams.

“Some states may fund some of their sports officers for the SEA Games. But it should be worth their investment. It will be good if these officers return home with some sort of report to improve their State sports affairs and not simply enjoy their holiday at public expense.

“Look at Vietnam. They will be sending 180 reporters for the Games. The country is taking part in 36 sports and have targeted to win 70 gold medals. This will do good to the profile of the Games.”

Malaysia, for all its huge presence, are targeting a mere 40 gold medals. Malaysia won 40-40-59 in Laos 2009 and 68-52-95 at Korat 2007.