KUALA LUMPUR - In the world of sports, the champions are getting younger and younger. And when an old-timer wins nowadays, it is seen as an extraordinary feat or a big accomplishment.
The same cannot be said about Malaysian sports officials.
Many above the age of 60 are still holding on to influential posts and some of the same old leaders have run their associations for more than three decades.
Here is a simple comparison.
Athletes in competitive sport generally retire at about the same age - in their late 20s or early 30s because their body cannot take the physical demands of training and competition anymore or they are no longer motivated. They also leave for various other reasons like injuries or failure to just keep up with high-riding youngsters.
Of course, there are exceptions. Some athletes are able to last the pace longer, depending on the sport that they choose. Some sports do not require rigorous athleticism and they can sustain longer.
It is the reverse when it comes to the longevity of sports administrators in the national body - the older, the wiser, the better it seems.
Is that good or bad?
Out of the 56 sports affiliates under the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM), more than half have sports officials above 50 years old.
Is age alone a substantial criterion to determine whether a leader should or should not lead his association? Can someone more than 80 years old be as productive as one who is 50?
Or should there be a maximum age limit for one to manage a national body?
Why do the same people, who do not perform (usually measured by a lack of results and poor management of athletes and coaches), get elected year in and year out? Is it a a conspiracy or cronyism?
Can age or the years of his service determine whether a leader is good or bad? Is a leader of more than 10 years better than those who have only five years of experience?
What background should he or she have? In the instance of kabbadi, can Datuk Shahidan Kassim play his role to the best of his ability as a president - although he knows almost nothing about the sport?
No matter how we look at it, one shoe does not fit all.
Roughly, there are several categories of sports administrators in Malaysia - old and having served long but still fired up; old and having served long but wasting away; old, just started but bringing positive changes; old, just started but bringing negative changes; young and fired up; young and wasting away.
On top of that, there are two more elements that also influence the way our country's sports administrators perform their duties.
There are volunteers (mostly in NSAs) who are committed, sacrificial and are there for the love of the game. They do not get paid. Some volunteers however, are lazy and complacent too.
Then, there are paid government servants (mostly in the National Sports Council, Youth and Sports Ministry and National Sports Institute) who are diligent and hardworking but there are also paid staff who are just there for the money, fame and perks - without any pulse or passion for the sport.
It is relatively easier to measure the paid staff. If they do not live up to their KPIs, they should be sacked and replaced.
However, it is quite complicated with the national sports associations as the leaders are elected and it is not easy to flush them out if they fail to perform during the term that they have been elected for.
And if there is one category that Malaysians probably want to boot out it is the group of leaders and administrators who are old, have served long enough and are wasting away by not contributing at all.
Take for instance, these three associations - Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Congress (MTBC) and Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF).
All their leaders have been there for three decades or so.
Out of the three, bowling probably have been producing the most consistent results in major games like the Asian Games and SEA Games and boasts a good development programme and turnover of quality athletes.
Datuk Dr P.S. Nathan, 80, has displayed some of the pedigree of a good leader - if not, how do we explain MTBC's clean record as far as producing creditable results through their bowlers.
The same however, cannot be said about football and cycling. Football headed by 84-year-old Sultan Ahmad Shah is invested with match-fixing scandals, and a lack of development programmes and results at the international stage. They are struggling to bring back the glory days of Mokhthar Dahari, C. Arumugam and Soh Chin Aun and others.
In cycling, under the 73-year-old Datuk Abu Samah Abu Wahab, there are just no track and road cyclists coming through.
So, does this mean that people like Nathan should go on and on while the leaders from football and cycling should step down and give way to others?
It is something for the wise voters to ponder on and something for the leaders to reflect on as well.
If the under-performers leave or are voted out, are there enough good administrators out there to lead the associations? Can a younger sports official get his break to lead an association?
Some good administrators are not interested in volunteering their services because it does not pay big bucks and some do not want to get their hands dirty - with internal problems and politicking (that is another story all together).
At the recent launch of a golf yearbook, Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin made an interesting comment on seniority when it comes to holding key positions.
He said that his rationale for appointing 75-year-old Tun Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid as the chairman of the Sports Advisory Panel (SAP) was that the latter is experienced, knowledgeable and has a knack of making things happen. In short, he is not an empty vessel that only makes a lot of noise.
Sarji, who helmed the Malaysian Lawn Bowls Federation (MLBF) for 17 years and is now chairman of Professional Golf Malaysia (PGM) set up a golf academy in just four years.
"By having a respected figure as the chairman of SAP, which is an important decision-making body for the Youth and Sports Ministry, no one will bully a 'young' punk like me," Khairy said in jest.
The 38-year-old minister has had his fair share of resistance since taking over the post last year - but he perseveres in his bid to empower the younger generation and win over the older generation with his vibrant managing style.
At the end of the day, it does not matter whether a sports official is young or old; what matters is whether he carries out his duties sincerely.
It is not about getting rid of all the old sports officials - that would be a cardinal sin. It is not about electing all young vibrant sports administrators - that would be plain absurd.
It is about having both young and old working hand in hand. They should showcase all these leadership qualities - integrity, dedication, commitment, competency, knowledgeable, ethical and modesty, while promoting the athletes above their self-interests.
People on the ground will have to choose their leaders wisely and without any fear or favour - so that we will not see the same unproductive leaders getting elected again and again.
Age is just a number - and what matters is substance.