Enough of the yesterdays
(Published in The Malay Mail on Sept 16, 2013)
Thursday, September 19, 2013 - 12:07
Today, billions of ringgit is spent on sports in Malaysia compared to when sportsmen and women were amateurs and had to make a great deal of sacrifices. Passion and patriotism drove the athletes of yesteryear to achieve excellence.
In fact, the sports fraternity still talks about the golden past.
It is not wrong to say Malaysia enjoyed more glorious moments and were recognised for their feats in various sports then.
But in all fairness, there are sports that still bring honour to Malaysia today and have put us on the map.
Badminton, squash and tenpin bowling come to mind. These continue to fly Malaysia's flag.
Names like Datuk Lee Chong Wei, Datuk Nicol David and Shalin Zulkilfi are not only household names, but also known to the world.
However, only badminton is an Olympic sport while squash lost its bid to make its debut in the 2020 Games last week.
Malaysia, after 50 years, is still looking for its first Olympic gold medal, while many other smaller nations have beaten us to it.
So, why after so much early promise is Malaysian sports struggling to find its footing today when facilities are abundant and funds, top coaching expertise and overseas stints are readily available, and above all when athletes are rewarded handsomely for achievements?
The government has been ever ready to pump millions of ringgit into sports each year with the hope of seeing stars emerge, but more often than not, is rewarded with disappointment.
I can still remember when I could rattle off the names of Malaysia’s top sportsmen and women as a schoolboy in the 1960s and 1970s, but today despite having been immersed in sports as a sportswriter, I cannot name as many stars today.
I have been associated with Merdeka Stadium - the mecca of Malaysian sports - all my life. From age one, in fact (I found this out when I was shown black-and-white photographs of my birthday party held at the restaurant there 54 years ago).Little did I know that Merdeka Stadium would become my second home in my adulthood.
My late father told me that he paid only RM3.50 per head for the party (big money than for my father who had to dig deep into his salary for tea/coffee/soft drinks, sandwiches, curry puff and a piece of cake).
When I learnt that my party was held on the same ground where, on the morning of Aug 31, 1957, independence was proclaimed, it meant a lot to me.
As a schoolboy, I raced on the bitumen tracks of Merdeka Stadium on St John's Institution sports day many a year, played in the Selangor schools Under-18 final against La Salle Petaling Jaya and won a medal and watched the 1975 World Cup hockey semifinal and final there.
And from the late 1970s, Merdeka Stadium became my regular haunt as a cub reporter covering the Razak Cup youth soccer tournament before I moved on to cover bigger events like the Merdeka tournament, SEA Games, Malaysia Cup and international athletic meets. I even watched the Michael Jackson concert there.
All those times are etched in my mind like they happened yesterday.
Yes, the Grand Old Lady – Merdeka Stadium – has such a rich sports history.
Malaysia Day may not have the same status as Merdeka Day, but the exclusion of Singapore did rob us of some of the fine athletes who were part of Malaya.
But Malaysia, without Singapore, continued to show its prowess in sports in the international field. But today, that tiny island sometimes outshines us in sports, which is embarrassing.
Singapore’s method of finding sportsmen and women by naturalisation is questionable but it reflects an eagerness to find glory.
I personally believe that with a population of close to 29 million, we have enough talent to rock the world. So, what is happening to sports in this country?
Are our athletes a pampered lot, not mature enough to make sacrifices, spoon-fed, rewarded for mediocrity, unambitious or even unpatriotic?
Sports officials and associations, meanwhile, are lacklustre in their efforts and lack dedication and management skills.
The National Sports Council, a government agency set up to assist sports associations with funding, has grown too big for its shoes and taken over the role of sports associations, although it does not have the expertise. Now it has too much on its plate.
Will Malaysian sports ever realise its full potential? There are simply too many problems in Malaysian sports and only a major overhaul, from top to bottom, can rescue it from the doldrums.
Maybe some of the woes can be addressed if Malaysian sports was represented by a cross-section of our multiracial nation and where only the best are selected.
There should be no compromises because sports is pure and all about fair play.
Let us hope that when Malaysia turns 60, its people are talking about sportsmen and women from that time and not still clinging to the golden era.
- Tony Mariadass is the Sports Editor of The Malay Mail