I've great respect for Tan Sri Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin. Even if he was initially known as the reluctant Sports Minister, having held the esteemed post of the Menteri Besar of my State before succeeding Datuk Ghani Othman at KBS in 1995, Muhyiddin proved to be decisive leader. He pushed through the Sports Act in 1998 despite protestations from certain quarters especially Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, provided leadership and support ahead of the highly successful staging of the Commonwealth Games and fought openly with Sukom chief, Tan Sri Hashim Mohd Ali, who happens to be the then Prime Minister's brother in law! Now that required scrotal gumption (to borrow Lazarus Rokk's term).
Based on his statement on Sunday that a review of the education curriculum to place more importance on sports in schools is needed, Muhyiddin possesses the political will to push for reforms. Trouble is the machinery might not be able to deliver. The officers down the line might not be able to comprehend, much less fulfill his objectives!
KUALA LUMPUR: Sports should once again be given serious emphasis in schools to produce students who are well-rounded, Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said Sunday.
Pointing out that education should be fun and interesting, Muhyiddin proposed a review of the education curriculum to place more importance on sports.
“When I was in school, sports was a very important co-curricular activity. We went back to school to train and our teachers guided and motivated us.
“Sports Day in schools was something the whole town would get involved in. It was such a big event with our parents also showing up to lend their support to sports,” he said in his speech at the Tan Sri Muhyiddin patron’s cup at the Mines Golf and Country Club here.
Muhyiddin said, however, that the present situation was far from that.
“I have a son who is still in school, in Victoria Institution, and I did not even know when his Sports Day was. I did not even see him go for training.
“I think we are missing something that is very important in life. Sports is not only for health but also provides a form of bonding,” he said, adding that children now bonded with the use of a computer.
Muhyiddin said that as the new Education Minister, he wanted to “bring back sports into schools” and see each child taking up an interest in sports.
“In the UK, it is compulsory to take up two sports even in university.”
Muhyiddin, however, added that it would prove a challenge to revamp the system because of problems that had been identified by the director-general.
“For one, not all schools have fields now and there are also not enough sports teachers.
“I don’t mean to offend anyone but 80% of our teachers are women. Not that they are not important, but we need some men as well and we will have to figure out how to draw them into the profession.”
Muhyiddin said he hoped parents would also agree with the review of the curriculum to make sports important or it might lead to a system that only aimed at students scoring 20As.
Now let's read what Mike Rowbottom, one of UK's renowned sportswriters, has to say about schools and sports.
If you wanted a graphic example of how sport and education can complement each other, the pupils of Morpeth School in Bethnal Green offered one this week.
Set in motion by the "Ready-set-go!" of Olympic marathoner Liz Yelling – a former PE teacher entirely in her element – the group of 10-14 year-olds charged off in a sequence of short relays which saw them transfer cards bearing the details of a mathematical challenge into a central pile behind the start line.
Yelling, guest of honour at what was the official launch of the London Marathon’s Playing for Success (PfS) centre, needed no convincing about the effectiveness of the format on show, even if the fact that she was seven months’ pregnant militated against her natural inclination to join in.
Nor was it lost on her husband and fellow athlete Martin that the exercise was artfully arranged by centre manager Hugh Flannery to engage children in activity almost as a byproduct of what they were doing. "They’re all getting a natural recovery period," he said to his wife. "They probably don’t realise how hard they’re working."
Last year I saw children similarly engaged with sport in the PfS centre at West Ham United. Luis Boa Morte may not have been flavour of the month with the Upton Park faithful after two glaring misses in his most recent match, but his effect upon the 20 or so eager pupils of West Ham Church School was mesmeric as he arrived in their computer suite for a session of what was termed "mentoring".
While Boa Morte remains a spikey, even spiteful figure on the pitch, his persona away from the field is quiet and reflective to the point of shyness. And as he sat with his back to a slide screen while the children attempted to tell him what image it was showing without using the word itself, his face took on the look of a puzzled child.
The first clue – "It’s quite big" – hardly narrowed things down. "You use it to do things," offered another pupil. Still not crystal clear. But the third clue – "it helps you think" – proved sufficient for Boa Morte to twig that he had a big picture of a brain behind him.
While the Portuguese star spent perhaps an hour with the pupils, you could see that his visit would live for a far longer time in their memories.
This week Yelling was having a similar effect upon the children from Morpeth and Manorfield schools. As 10-year-old Billy Lee-Ives searched the web in the newly built computer suite to complete a questionnaire on the woman who finished 26th in last year’s Beijing marathon despite cracking a rib in an early fall, the question of who was his favourite runner prompted a careful response.
"She is," he said, pointing above his head to the signed poster of Kelly Holmes. "And Liz Yelling," he added loyally.
There are 162 PfS centres in the UK, all aiming to stimulate literacy, numeracy and IT skills through sports from football to rugby to ballet to crown bowls.
The problem for the children of Tower Hamlets, however, was the fact that there was no obvious club or stadium with which to attach such a centre. At which point the lateral thinking of Clair Hawkins, Joint Head of Children’s Services at Tower Hamlets, came up with an elegant solution: as a good proportion of the London Marathon is run through the Borough, why not attach it to a world renowned event?
While the initial application caused the Marathon’s chief executive Nick Bitel a moment or two of puzzlement, he soon saw its inspired logic. There followed an offer to sponsor the centre for £26,000 a year over the next three years – a grand for every mile of the marathon.
And as he watched Yelling and the Tower Hamlets mayor Muhammed Abdullah Salique cut the ribbon stretched across the computer suite’s entrance, Bitel reflected upon the circumstance which enhanced his personal satisfaction at being able to help support the scheme.
"My father, Max, was born 200 yards away in that direction," Bitel said with a grin. "Bancroft Road."
Having seen Tower Hamlets succeed in wrapping a PfS centre around an event rather than a physical entity, Bitel is now anticipating other some of the other five Boroughs through which the Marathon runs to try their luck.
They will have to be patient, however. The next centre to be opened – on May 25, 150 yards away from the 2012 Olympic stadium – is the last of the current batch being proposed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. For Cllr Hawkins it has been a marathon not a sprint – but reaching the finish has proved glorious indeed.
Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now freelancing and writes regularly for insidethegames