SINGAPORE - He won Singapore's first sambo gold medal at the SEA Games after making an 11th hour switch ahead of the 2019 edition in the Philippines, but Nazri Sutari's heart always remained with kickboxing.
With sambo not featuring at the upcoming edition of the Games - kickboxing will - the 30-year-old decided the time was right for a return. He returned to kickboxing training earlier this year after a major knee injury, with an eye on making the cut for Hanoi.
Now, he has been given a boost off the mat.
Already holding appointments in the Kickboxing Federation of Singapore (KFS) as technical director (since August 2020) and national coach (since May 2019), Nazri is set to play an even bigger role in the sport after he was among the 15 individuals selected by kickboxing's world governing body Wako to be in its inaugural GameChanger (WGC) programme.
The World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (Wako) described the programme as a sports leadership and management programme it hopes will educate and develop future leaders in the sport, and opened applications to national athletes aged 30 or younger.
Nazri is one of just two Asians selected, with the other being a candidate from Jordan. Eleven hail from European nations, and two others hail from Argentina and Mexico.
All 15 will undergo a one-year programme which comprises virtual and physical sessions, before an examination and certificate ceremony at the International Olympic Council headquarters in Lausanne, which will likely take place in the summer of 2022.
Nazri told The Straits Times: "I accept I will not be an athlete (forever) so I want to give back to the sport what it has given me, and more.
"By taking part in the WGC programme, I hope I get the skills I need to raise the profile of the local kickboxing - and local combat sports - scene to the next level.
"I don't know exactly what to expect, but I'm sure I will learn and pick up a lot of new skills which will make me a better martial artist."
Wako president Roy Baker said the organisation selected Nazri because he "embodies the values of Wako, has significant achievements in the context of combat sports in Singapore and demonstrates exemplary leadership skills through serving KFS in his various appointments".
Espen Lund, the Wako vice-president who is spearheading the WGC programme, added: "The vision of the programme is to develop the next generation of leaders of our sport and to create a positive impact in the kickboxing community worldwide.
"I strongly believe that Nazri is the right person to make that positive impact in Singapore and build the next generation of leaders and kickboxers."
KFS president Jason Lim backed Nazri to ace the challenge.
"He is someone who puts his heart into everything he does. I am sure he will do the same for the WGC programme," said Lim.
"There will be a lot of work, virtual and physical meetings to attend and projects to do. Balancing all of this on top of his appointments in KFS combined with his athlete career aspirations will not be easy, but I believe Nazri is up for the challenge."