Friday, September 2, 2005

GLORIOUS PAST OF MERDEKA STADIUM (02/09/2005 - The Malay Mail)

Publication : MM
Date : 02/09/2005

THE nation was born on sporting grounds at the stroke of midnight on Aug
31, 1957, at the Selangor Padang (now known as Dataran Merdeka) and at
Merdeka Stadium, where the proclamation of independence was held the next
Such is the rich history of sports in this country and as we celebrated
our 48th year of independence on Wednesday, one could not help but look
back at yesteryears, when sports enjoyed more glory and accorded higher
After all, soccer and a few other sports were part of the legacies left
behind by the British and have been part of Malaysian culture since the
It was Tunku Abdul Rahman Al-haj's vision which saw Merdeka Stadium
built in record time and officially declared open on Aug 30, 1957, in
time for the Merdeka celebrations the following morning, where more than
10,000 attended the parade.
And it was Tunku's vision which saw the birth of the Merdeka soccer
tournament that soon became a prestigious event in Asia. The Asian Youth
tournament two years later was also the Tunku's brainchild.
Malaya became champions of the Merdeka tournament in 1958 and several
times thereafter.
And it was not only in soccer that Malaysia excelled in, but also in
badminton where Wong Peng Soon and Eddy Choong dominated the All-England
badminton championships from 1950 to 1957, following which Tan Aik Huang
won it again in 1966.
Malaysia then had athletes like Datuk Dr M. Jegathesan and Isthiaq
Mubarak reaching great heights in the Olympics, and the hockey team that
reached the World Cup semi-finals in 1975 at Merdeka Stadium.
While the nation have grown by leaps and bounds in all other areas, it
is sad that in sports, despite all the modern facilities, technology,
funds and rewards that are readily available, has deteriorated.
So what has gone wrong with Malaysian sports which started off on such
a strong note, but failed to grow in parallel with the nation, but
instead has faltered?
Other nations who played second fiddle to us and feared us in the past,
are now giants and have attained world-class level.
The biggest problem with Malaysian sports is there is not one weakness
or flaw that can be identified which could be rectified.
The ills befalling Malaysian sports have become widespread over the
years, and it is really hard to pinpoint the cause in order to provide
the antidote.
But probably, the fact that Merdeka Stadium, a historic landmark, was
almost reduced to ashes in 2001, should give Malaysians an idea of how
much they treasure the memories to emulate those who toil and sweat for
their achievements.
And it comes as no surprise that Malaysian sportsmen and women do not
display the same passion, spirit, determination, discipline and
dedication to strive in the sporting arena.
For me, my association with Merdeka Stadium started without my
knowledge when I was only a year old in 1959.
My parents actually held my first birthday tea-party at the restaurant
in the stadium!
No, my parents were not rich, but caretakers of a guest-house, but
having been married six months before Merdeka and being part of the
celebrations, they probably treasured those moments and wanted me to
share the joy and happiness by throwing a party for me there.
I may not have known it then, but that association 46 years ago has
virtually "married" me to the stadium.
I only realised the tea-party was at Merdeka Stadium, as I grew older
and recognised those black-and-white photographs taken then.
Then as a schoolboy, I ran along the Merdeka Stadium bitumen tracks at
my school's (St John's Institution) sports day.
And how can I forget the 1975 World Cup semi-finals which I watched as
a schoolboy?
And from the early 80s, Merdeka Stadium became my regular haunt as a
cub reporter covering Razak Cup, Asian Schools, Malaysia Cup and Merdeka
tournament soccer matches, in addition to the countless athletics meets,
not to mention watching live concerts there, including Eric Clapton's
Millions of other Malaysians will have similar tales to relate, and
which will be told for many years to come.
And to think of the disrespect and disregard for the Grand Old Lady,
that has been accorded Merdeka Stadium, is indeed scary, not to mention
our Father of Independence.
Thanks to Permodalan Nasional Berhad, who had taken over from previous
owners United Engineers Malaysia Berhad, and their chairman, Tan Sri
Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid, a concerted effort has been made to conserve and
preserve the stadium.
It is disconcerting that Malaysians have gradually been ignoring the
value of sports.
Efforts are being made to instil the sporting culture in Malaysians
once again, but it is not something which will take place overnight
because they must feel the sporting spirit first.
Some may think it is far-fetched to associate Merdeka Stadium with the
ills of sports in the country today, but it was where it began for the
nation and sports. And if Malaysians do not value those moments and try
to relive them, let alone better them, a part of our history would
already have been erased.
Merdeka Stadium is the soul and character of Malaysia and their
sporting achievements.
For as long as Merdeka Stadium still exists, it will bear testimony to
Malaysia's glorious sporting past.
Maybe, that was why they wanted to reduce the Grand Old Lady to ashes
and build skyscrapers instead!

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