Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin (centre) with Sea Games athletes at Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur in August. Sports is a unifying factor that promotes health and is fun. PIC BY HAFIZ SOHAIMI

THE Johor Sports Awards held last month celebrated the achievements of the state’s athletes. It demonstrated our pride in their contributions and achievements at the state, national and international levels.

But, the awards were nothing compared with the sweat, energy, time and other sacrifices by these athletes to achieve their success. The awards could not match the commitment and determination of the sports managers, coaches and the movers and shakers in Johor, who had worked tirelessly to ensure that these athletes emerged victorious for Johor and Malaysia.

As a representative of the state government, I want to stress that we are grateful, proud and inspired by their perseverance. Their success will be remembered as the best moments for Johor and her people.

An athlete’s success reflects his extraordinary spirit to emerge victorious amid competition. It is about never giving up in spite of hurdles and challenges. It is about displaying excellence and personal strength.

This spirit embodies the true values and philosophy of a Progressive Johor. Their success in the medium and instrument of sports could inspire three new strengths for Johor.

First, their success will help to develop resilience among Bangsa Johor. Sports is a platform that can encourage people to become resilient, active, energetic and competitive. We must be a people who never give up. Resilience is important as it leads to activeness and physical health. People who are resilient will have a sharp mind and emotionally stable.

Agile thinking and emotional wellbeing produce strong, progressive and distinguished communities. The most progressive nations have people who are resilient, active and who thrive on competition.

For instance, tens of thousands of 18-year–old youths in the west and east Asia explore the world to gain new experiences, and tens of thousands of 20-year-old youths work in volunteer organisations in many countries. This happens in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and other places worldwide.

An example of a resilient people are the Palestinians. They can withstand whatever challenges thrown at them. They are patient and do not give up because they believe that patience and perseverance will ultimately bring happiness.

I am confident that one of the most effective ways to build national resilience for Malaysia is through sports.

Sports is a unifying factor which is liked by many people. It promotes health and is fun. Look at the recent Sea Games and how it spurred unity among our people and country. Many youngsters stepped forward to volunteer for their love of sports and regarded it as their patriotic duty.

Malaysians were enthusiastic when supporting their home team. At almost all events, arenas were filled to the brim during the period. Sport does not discriminate and there are no religious or racial constraints, or cliques in sport. There are only resilience and vast opportunities to foster unity.

Second, the success of our athletes will turn sport into Johor’s new source of economic growth. There is economic value and strategic commercial value in sports.

In Malaysia, sports is relegated as a government programme, which is dependent on incentives and government funding.

We must give a new image to Malaysia’s sports development sector, and this must start in Johor. It must be pioneered by the existing associations and clubs.

Managers and administrators of these cubs and associations must elevate Johor sports to a higher level.

Athletes, sportsmen, clubs and their managers and associations must use sports as an instrument to diversify the economy. Elite and non-elite sport events bring high-commercial value, but how we want to achieve that will be a challenge.

I urge administrators and sport practitioners in Johor to work with the state government to turn the state into a national and regional sports hub.

We must bring various sporting events to Johor. If the Kuala Lumpur Marathon could become a global event, why not the Iskandar Marathon? If the Monsoon Cup was successfully held in states such as Terengganu, why can’t the Mersing Regatta become successful? If Abu Dhabi can become a centre for desert endurance, why can’t Endau Rompin become a tropical endurance arena?

Third, all our victories in sports will greatly contribute to Johor’s influence, image and position on the national and global stage. Look at JDT (Johor Darul Ta’zim football club). It has become a big football brand in the country and at the international level.

Who would have predicted that JDT would come this far? When people mention JDT, they know it is Johor. This is what is known as Johor’s “soft” power.

We need to use sports to build a positive image for our people and state. It is through this positive image that we will be seen as influential, well-known and a role model.

We are not a big state. But, our geographical size should not hinder our big dreams.

We want to become a state that is influential and respected despite our size.

Our influence should not merely be based on how big our districts are, but on the quality and integrity of our people.

I believe that the time has come to look at sports from a bigger and more important perspective.

It is only with this change of perspective can our overall policy and approach to sports change.

I am determined to bring about this change.

Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin is the Johor menteri besar

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