MALAYSIA a powerhouse in badminton in two years?
At any other time, this statement by Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) president Tan Sri Norza Zakaria would have been laughed off, with cynicism and some harsh criticism.
The reactions would have been understandable.
After all, things have been falling apart in Malaysian badminton.
The coaching and training structure has been fragile. A lack of communication between players and management has stood out like a sore thumb. There were just so many changes in the set-up that one gets dizzy just thinking about it!
To add to the misery, there was a shortage of quality talent coming through. Except for Lee Chong Wei before his retirement last year and a few other senior players, there was nothing much to shout about.
Sceptics even thought that the three silver medals at the Rio Olympic Games won by Chong Wei (men’s singles), Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong (men’s doubles) and Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying (mixed doubles) would be the last glitter of glory for the nation for decades.
But those sceptics may be wrong.
And there may just be some truth in Norza’s renewed confidence in the team.
I’m not sure whether it will happen in two years as he says but one thing is certain. The national body are getting it right with their processes at last.
It’s all still in the early stages but the presence of former national No. 1 Wong Choong Hann and Datuk Misbun Sidek as the chiefs of the senior and junior teams is making a significant difference.
Even as a player, Choong Hann was determined, hardworking and honest. The 43-year-old is now applying all his experience, knowledge and principles by putting in the hours to correct what is wrong with the players, coaches and the system.
Misbun is 60 but having this respectable figure leading the future stars may be one of the best moves the BAM have made, a masterstoke.
The way he disciplines and inspires the players – all of them, regardless of race – is admirable.
The players, seniors and juniors, now know their roles clearly.
If not for the disruptions caused by Covid-19, I believe we would have seen some significant progress in our players’ results.
For sure, there is a change of mindset already.
All players have equal opportunities, unlike the days when coaches just focused on one or two prominent players.
The juniors are a lucky lot too.
Their studies are built around their sports careers in contrast to what happens at the Bukit Jalil Sports School’s system.
They are provided with Cambridge education (IGCSE) with tutors from the Regent International School in Puchong coming to their doorstep to teach.
Even if they fail to make it in badminton, they could find success in their academic future. All they have to do is really work at it.
The hiring of American Robert Gambardella was a gamble but one that is seen as crucial.
As chief operating officer of the Academy Badminton Malaysia, the experienced 62-year-old sports administrator is expected to strengthen and bind all the units together.
He helped Singapore win their first Olympics gold in 2016 after a seven-year stint. Who knows what he can do for Malaysia?
All the steps taken so far may just do the trick to help Malaysia, in the long run, to narrow the gap with countries like Japan, China, Indonesia, who have raced well ahead of us in badminton terms.
If we can keep politics out of the picture, get rid of glory-seeking officials, prevent outside meddling, maintain the harmony in the teams and create similar models in states (like the recent one in the national team), we might just have a shot.
Suddenly, the path to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, the City of Lights, is looking brighter.