By Tony Mariadass
(H) We rocked Asia and the world
Those we the days when sports in the county was of Asian and World standards.
Yes, we have Datuk Lee Chong Wei, Datuk Nicol David and Sazali Samad who keep the Malaysian flag flying high, but what has happened to team sports when we have a pool of top class athletes.
Today we are celebrating regional tournament wins and even reaching the final.
Our athletes should be setting much higher standards and working hard to at least reach the standards set up past athletes and probably setting their goals to surpass it.
Four teams of the past have been honoured and inducted to the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame in 2004 and since then no other team has been inducted.
This column honours these sportsman for their great achievement and putting Malaysian sports on the world arena as early as the 40s era.
Badminton team, Thomas Cup 1949, Preston, England:
Chan Kan Leong, Yeoh Tech Chye, Teoh Seng Khoon, Ooi Teik Hock, Lim Chuan Geok, Wong Peng Soon, Law Teik Hock, Lim Kee Fong and Ong Poh Lim
The 1949 Thomas Cup was the inaugural tournament of Thomas Cup, the most important men's badminton team competition in the world.
The tournament was originally planned for 1941-1942 (badminton seasons in the northern hemisphere traditionally ran from the autumn of one calendar year to the spring of the next), but was delayed when World War II exploded across the continents. Sir Thomas George's dream was finally realised in 1948-1949 when ten national teams participated in the first Thomas Cup competition. Three qualifying zones were established: Pan America, Europe, and the Pacific; though Malaya (now Malaysia) was the only Pacific zone participant.
The United States and Denmark won their respective zone qualifications and thus joined Malaya for the inter-zone ties.
The inter-zone ties were held in the United Kingdom. As the tournament used a knockout system, rather than a round-robin system, Denmark was given a bye in the first round. Malaya defeated the USA 6–3 in a highly competitive match played in Glasgow, Scotland. Of note, this tie marked the first of only three ever matches between the USA's Dave Freeman and Malaya's Wong Peng Soon the two greatest singles players of the early post-war period. In the final round held in Preston, England, Malaya beat Denmark 8–1 and became the first nation to win a Thomas Cup.
Malaysia had gone to produce top badminton players like the late Eddy Chong, late Punch Gunalan, Ng Boon Bee, Tan Yee Khan and Misbun Sidek and his brother Razip and Jalani to name a few.
But of late, the sports lacks depth and the stronghold in the sport is continuously being challenged.
4 X 100m Relay team – gold medal at the 5th Asian Games, Bangkok 1966:
M. Jegathesan, T. Krishnan, G. Rajalingam and Mohd Ariffin Ahmad
Athletics certainly enjoyed their better years in the past when we ruled Asia.
One team which brought that glory is the 4 X 100 relay team which not only won the gold medal but the timing of 40.6 was an Asian Games record.
Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan a member of the victorious team and who become an athletics icon to the nation, summed up the current situation well when he said: “Sports today has shifted away from the game of poverty to the effluent society.
“Gone are the days when sports was competed by the hard core sports personalities who were rough and tough.
“Today sports is about being a member of club and playing indoor sports.
“We do not produce the tough sportsmen who will train for long hours rain or shine, take the tough regiment of training and sometimes even having to balance between their studies and sports.”
Jegathesan said that other countries still continue to produce top sportsmen and women because they still have a sports culture where families play a key role in their children’s sporting activities.
“Parents still send their children for out bound or other outdoor activities to expose their children to the tough activities.”
Football team, XX Olympic Games Munich 1972
Ali Bakar, Bahwandi Hiralal, Hamzah Hussin, Harun Jusoh, Lim Fung Kee, Looi Loon Teik, Namat Abdullah, Mohd Bakar, M. Chandran, Othman Abdullah, Rahim Abdullah, Salleh Ibrahim,Shaharuddin Abdullah, V. Krishnasamy, Wong Kam Fook and Zawawi Yusoff
Members of the qualifying team who won the ticket to Munich in Seoul but who did not travel to Munich:
Syed Ahmad, Dell Akbar Khan, Chan Kok Leong, Wong Hee Kok, V. Kalimutu and Yap Eng Hock
The 70s was the golden era for Malaysian football having not only qualified for the 1972 Munich Olympics, but also the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but did not compete because of the boycott.
The team of the era also excelled at the Asian Games finishing third at the 1974 Tehran Games, qualified for the Asian Cup in 1976 and 1980 and were kingpins at the Sea Games winning the title in 1977 and 1979 and were runners-up 1971 and 1975.
Players of that era are household names till today among the older generation.
It is understandable that the younger generation who have not seen the teams of the 70s perform, now are satisfied with regional tournament success.
In the pre-Olympics Munich qualifier in Seoul, Malaysia defeated South Korea 1-0 and thrashing Japan 3-0 and Taiwan and Philippines.
At the Olympics, Malaysia played in the opening match of the tournament against host Germany and lost 3-0.
In the next game, Malaysia beat USA 3-0 before going down to Morocco 6-0 in the last game to finish third in the four team Group A.
Datuk M. Chandran one of the most accomplished footballer Malaysia has produced was the captain of the Munich Olympics team.
“Our secret to success was simply that we had a good all round team who played as a team. Talent was plenty and the competition was keen making it difficult to make the final squad,” recalled Chandran who later became a national coach.
“The players were amateurs then, but showed so much more professionalism than the professionals players of the present era.
“We had strong local leagues where players grew to become top players. Although there were no development programmes, but the schools were the nursery and played a key role.
“Another reason for the declining standards today is the inclusion of foreign players who take up the places of locals to deny them the opportunity to play. And with teams emphasising on foreign strikers and defenders, it is little wonder that the national team suffers in these departments for lack of quality players,” said Chandran who was one of the best defenders of his era.
Chandran also said that with not many new local coaches emerging, fresh faces and ideas is lacking in the local scene to make it more challenging and exciting.
Hockey team, World Cup Kuala Lumpur 1975
Brian Sta Maria, Francis Belwantharan, Franco D’Cruz, Poon Fook Loke, S. Balasingam, Khairudin Zainal, Len de Oliverio, N. Palanisamy, R. Ramakrishnan, R. Pathmarajah, Wong Choon Hin, Zain Azahari, M. Mahendran, Phong Poh Meng and N. Sri Shanmuganathan
Critic argue that the game of hockey had changed and one cannot go one basking on the achievement of the 1975 World Cup hockey team who played on grass, the rules were different and they had home ground advantage.
But whatever said, one cannot deny that the players that made the team were quality players and the fact that till today, hockey fans remember their names only underlines their superiority.
They competed against the world’s best and stood tall.
“Say what people like, no one can take away what we achieved and we did it through sheer hard work, determination, dedication and discipline,” said Datuk Sri Shanmuganathan the captain of the 75 World Cup team.
“The success of the team was because we were truly an all-Malaysian team. Everyone played their role – from the players, officials, media and fans – for our success in 1975,” said Shan as he is fondly called.
He also reminded that the hockey team had also qualified for the 1972 Munich Olympics semifinals.
Shan said Malaysia does lack talent but has to believe in local coaches to bring success.
“We have experienced coaches, but all they need is to be exposed to the new trends in the world of coaching by sending them overseas for courses or attachment with top hockey nations,” said Shan.
“This will be better than hiring foreign coaches who normally come with outdated methods. If these foreign coaches were really all that good, they would be coaching in their own country or other top teams.
“Players on the other hand also have to work harder at the game and put in the extra hours on their own. They must also have character.”
Certainly all does not look lost for Malaysian sports as long as we put our house in order and start building from the foundation to reach the pinnacle. Afterall, we have already been there before and that should be enough motivation to taste success again.