Friday, April 4, 2014

As pure as sports is, it can be unkind to

Friday, April 04, 2014 - The Malay Mail
Rajagobal waves to the fans after the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal first leg between Malaysia and Thailand at National Stadium, Bukit Jalil, December 10, 2012. -- Picture by Razak Ghazali


ATHLETES, coaches, administrators and officials often complain that their efforts are not appreciated and that, more often than not, they are dumped unceremoniously or without a word of thanks.
When one is riding high, everyone comes around clapping and singing him the praises. But at the first sign of trouble, everyone deserts him, sometimes even his closest friends.
This is the true world of sports despite it bringing joy to so many every day.
I am surprised at how, for the last three months, the media has stopped criticising Malaysian football, how officials have forgotten how urgent it is to find a new coach and how suddenly several teams are being handled by the chosen ones and accountability has become a foreign word.
How things and plans can change overnight. The priority to keep climbing the ranking table has taken a back seat while past excuses like injury, fatigue, a lack of strikers have become acceptable.
This tells me only one thing – no one really cares about sports.
After 35 years of covering Malaysian sports, I have seen it happen over and over again. Nothing is learned from past mistakes.
These thoughts were rekindled after I met former national football coach Datuk K. Rajagobal over the week as he wanted to pass me his eldest son Kanason’s wedding invitation.
Rajagobal was actually looking happier and more relaxed than the last time I had lunch with him when he was still the national coach.
Every minute of the 30 minutes we were at the restaurant, someone walked up to him to greet him, to express their appreciation for what he had done for Malaysian football, to ask after his health, to prompt him to write a book, to praise him for having raised the standard of the game, to ask for his autograph or to take pictures with him.
Rajagobal was embarrassed and kept apologising for the interruptions as we were trying to catch up on a few things.
No apologies needed, Raja, as I call him. You earned it, so soak it up. They say respect is earned, not given.
Then he opened up.
“You know, the last four months have really been a revelation to me. The appreciation I get from strangers when I go jogging, when children come up to me for autographs, ask me to coach them, when the elderly walk up to me to greet me.
“It is not as if I am boasting, but such appreciation is something money cannot buy.
“When I was the national coach, I often asked myself why I was doing it when I was getting so much flak. When things were rosy, everyone sang me the praises. But when I concentrated on doing my job and did not play politics, things started to change. Everyone started to look for faults in me. It was not that I wanted to hang on to the job. I just wanted to finish what I had started.
“But all that is in the past. I gave my best and the appreciation I get from people on the ground is more than I can ask for.”
Rajagobal said he was shocked when Shafiq Rahim, at his marriage to former national bowler Zandra Aziela, made an announcement asking him to sit at the main table.
“That really took me by surprise as the main table is reserved for the couple and their families.
“These are the small things that make me savour every moment I spent with the national team.”
And Rajagobal’s success did not come overnight.
He started playing in a village in Hot Springs, Setapak, for Hotspurs and went on to don the national colours for two years (1981-82). He played for Selangor from 1978 to 1984, winning the Malaysia Cup six times, played for and coached PKNS, coached club teams, President Cup teams, was assistant coach for Selangor and national team to national coach Ken Worden, attended coaching courses both local and international and finally coached Selangor and Kelantan. Indeed, he did his time.
At national level, he started off as the national Under 21 coach in 2003 and to qualify the AFC Youth Under-20 final round in Malaysia and qualified for the quarterfinals with China, ending a 33-year drought.
In 2005, his youth team qualified for the AFC Under-20 final round in India, this time ending a 27-year drought.
After the national Under-23 team coached by Rajagobal won the gold medal at the 2009 Laos SEA Games after 20 long years and his national team won the AFF Suzuki Cup the following year after 14 years, the Malaysian football fraternity went into a frenzy.
Rajagobal also took the national Under-23 team to the second round of the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games after 32 years.
These are all results he earned through sheer hard work.
Rajagobal is not complaining that he is no longer the national coach. He is just happy he contributed to Malaysian football and the layman on the street recognises that.
Walk tall, Raja, and hopefully future local coaches will be appreciated a little bit more and given the respect their honest work deserves.

years of experience in sports
journalism and is passionate
about Malaysian sports. He
can be reached at
Twitter handle: @tmariadass

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