THE national women's football team's 14-0 thrashing by Thailand in a Sea Games tie has sparked off a debate -- should the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) be even more strict in deciding how athletes or teams qualify for events such as the Sea Games?
Sports Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek is among those who think so, describing the women's team's defeat as an embarrassment.
To be fair to OCM, it already has a system for athletes or teams who don't meet the qualifying mark for the Sea Games -- the association-funded Category B, where those who compete under this banner are reimbursed should they win gold or silver.
The category has worked thus far as it allows young athletes who have not had the opportunity to compete abroad regularly the chance to pit their skills against the region's best.
However, in light of the 14-0 thrashing, it is obvious that OCM needs to fine tune Category B to ensure that Malaysian athletes don't become the subject of jokes just because associations think they are good enough to compete internationally.
In fact, OCM upgraded the Sea Games qualifying criteria to the silver medal level several years ago and the time has come to do something about athletes or teams going under Category B.
While athletes shouldn't be denied the opportunity to represent the country, it is only logical to expect them to be of a certain standard before sending them abroad.
This will only happen if the respective sports have a solid structure domestically from where the best are picked to represent Malaysia.
In the build-up to the Sea Games, Timesport's reporters have come across several sports going to Laos without adequate preparation, with several only making the trip due to the support of individuals or because of their passion.
Due credit should be given to them but this is not the way sport operates, not even at the Sea Games level.
The women's team's defeat shows that Category B, though well meant, needs improvement and what OCM needs to do from now is to ensure that any athlete or team, even if self funded, must be the product of a well planned domestic structure.
It just wouldn't seem right to send an athlete or team to an international competition despite they not having competed in a national level meet. It would be even worse if the sport concerned doesn't even have national level competitions but sends a team to the Sea Games.
OCM must play the leading role here for as the main sports body in the country, it should be ensuring that its affiliates are improving constantly rather than only coming alive come Sea Games year. NST