News feature, November 1, 2006.
An important announcement as regards the future of the Tour de Langkawi is set to be made this week by the Malaysian Minster of Sport, Datuk Azalina Othman Said. The last two editions of the prestigious 2.HC Malaysian event have been dogged by financial difficulties but a government buyout earlier this year settled many of the financial debts, thus securing the race’s licence with the UCI.
Although a very considerable financial commitment on the part of the government seemed to ensure that the race would have a long-term future, planning for next year’s race has been hampered by bitter political infighting within the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF), as well as some negative commentary in the national press. The Minister of Sport is frustrated by the turn of events and is due to make a ruling on the matter this week.
MNCF deputy president Datuk Mohd Naim has been one of the most vocal critics, with the New Straits Times amongst those running several strong articles quoting his displeasure with the appointment of Red Revolution Sdn Bhd as part of the organisation of the event. Some within the press have appeared to have used the matter for political leverage, questioning if the government is justified in backing the race.
Naim’s stance has been at variance with that of MNCF president, Abu Samah Wahab, who along with many of the board reportedly backed the current project at their EXCO meeting in September. According to Red Revolution’s Simon Donnellan, who remains managing director of the former race owners First Cartel, the proposed structure was subsequently given the all clear by the government-appointed taskforce.
He believes that the current ruction within the Federation is a power struggle, due in part to the MNCF’s initial appointment as the organisers of the race, as well as the large sums of money which will be injected into the event and cycling.
The Malaysian government are reported to have paid RM3.4 million (approximately 730,000 euro) to settle most of the debts, with RM2.3million coming from the Youth and Sports Ministry and RM1.1 million from the Tourism Ministry.
In addition, as a sign of their commitment to the race (which plays a major part in promoting tourism), and also to the sport, the government has reportedly allocated an additional RM23 million, approximately 4.94 million euro. Some of this is to be used in running the race, with part of the funding also going towards the promotion and development of the sport in Malaysia. Cyclingnews understands that some of this money is to be used to enable national teams to compete in Asian Tour events and to take riders to race in Belgium.
Earlier this month, MNCF President Abu Samah said that following a UCI directive to include the previous race organisers, the federation hired some of those from First Cartel to run the event. Former race controller Alan Rushton will also return in order to contribute to the smooth running of the race.
"We decided to utilise their experience to help the MNCF in delivering a high standard of organisation as displayed in previous LTdLs," Abu Samah was quoted in the Star newspaper on October 20. "Red Revolution have taken the responsibility in repaying the remaining debts incurred by First Cartel. They have contacted the creditors and informed them they would pay up the debts from their management fee on future work with the Tour.
"We believe that this is a responsible action by the management and the MNCF and task force will monitor them." Cyclingnews understands that most of those owed money have been paid, with the remaining section largely comprised of local creditors.
Donnellan - also known as Imran Abdullah since his conversion to Islam - told Cyclingnews last week that both the MNCF and the task force had given the green light for Red Revolution to be involved. "At their EXCO the structure was presented to the board. There were no objections and it was passed thoroughly by the eight people present. Those minutes were then signed off and approved by the secretary and the president by the 28th of September, then submitted to the government taskforce. It also approved and signed off the appointment of Red Revolution." Other reports have suggested that things may have become a little more complicated and so the clarification by the Minister expected this week will be welcome.
Donnellan says he is frustrated by the infighting within the MNCF, saying that there needs to be agreement soon if the race is to be organised in time for 2007.
"It is very sad for everybody's point of view that this is now being prolonged... at the end of the day, somebody has got to put this event on. We mustn't let this put the race in jeopardy. But if the federation does not get its act together it could do that because while the government has made up its mind [to back the race], it can easily change heart."
He says the Minister will have the ultimate stay. "She made a very clear statement on Malaysian television recently, saying that the MNCF has to get its act together, number one, and it has to work out its differences so it presents a united front and that it can work with this new structure.
"If it can't do that, then she will have to take action. That may well lead ultimately to her taking away the rights for them to be involved in the organisation [of the Tour de Langkawi]. It is important for people to start pulling together on this; the government have made a serious commitment to the event, and are looking at a minimum of five years backing. Together with the funding being made available for the sport, it could be very good news for cycling in Malaysia."