Friday, January 31, 2014

Sporting legends for bright future

 31st January, 2014

Level Field

Update: Wong Choon Wah passed away this morning. He was 68 years-old. May his soul rest in peace.

THE general consensus among ex-international sportsmen and women is that they are a neglected lot.
They complain that they are neither recognised for their past feats and sacrifices nor their services to their respective sports.
While a handful of ex-international sportsmen and women are involved in various sports associations, it is a fact that a large number of them have been left out.
This issue has been raised many a time but the sports associations have not been very receptive and are still helmed by royalty, politicians, wealthy individuals and, in some cases, individuals who do not have any sports background.
While some of the ex-athletes say that sports associations should be run by sports people, many are not interested in helming them. They just want to give back something to the sports fraternity, like coaching and administration.
The voice of these ex-athletes was loud and clear at the Sports Flame dinner organised by four veteran sports journalists of the 1970s and early 1980s (George Das, R. Velu, Fauzi Omar and Lazarus Rokk) at a leading hotel last Saturday.
HONOURED: M. Kuppan, N. Thanabalan, Wong Choon Wah and Peter Velappan (partly hidden) with their plaque presented by Fauzi (in suit)
 The four, who are passionate about Malaysian sports and who enjoyed the glorious and golden sports moments of the 1970s and early 1980s, wanted to show their appreciation for the athletes of that era, many of whom have been forgotten.
It was the second year the event was organised where several athletes were honoured with a simple plaque, but it is the thought that counts.
Also present at the event were other sports journalists, sports editors, photographers, sportsmen and women of the era, including the 1975 World Cup hockey team, and veteran sports officials.
It was indeed a nostalgic night and as the former athletes and veteran sports officials spoke of their era and the present day, many pertinent points surfaced, many of which we have heard over and over again.
A key point they raised was the school system where sports is not emphasised as it used to be. They talked of the lack of dedicated sports teachers, the disappearing playing fields, the lack of emphasis on physical education on the school timetable and students who have so many other things to do than sweating it out under the sun.
Others said it is because parents prioritise studies – where students have to attend tuition class after tuition class, leaving them with no time to go to the fields in the evenings – that the standard of sports has dropped drastically in the country.
They pointed out that children these days also prefer playing indoor games than being out there in the fields rain or shine. No wonder no talent is emerging from the schools.
Some reminisced about the days when sports in schools started with inter-class games, followed by inter-house before moving on to inter-school, inter-district and then national and international.
These days, almost all sports are held on a carnival basis and only a selected few are involved. Those days, there were even inter-house swimming meets organised by the schools when there were few swimming pools. But today, with so many swimming pools, schools hardly organise meets.
Athletic meets were held almost every week and schools invited other schools to compete in inter-school relays, which was the highlight of each school’s meets. Today, with the fields disappearing and exorbitant stadium costs, these meets have been reduced to carnivals with minimum events.
“Sports in schools those days and even the national teams was a 1Malaysia affair. It was the mixed balance that gave overall strength. Just look at the 1972 Munich Olympics football team, which had players from all races,” said Peter Velappan, the former secretary-general of the Asian Football Confederation and team manager of the Malaysian football team to the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Then, many of the ex-athletes spoke about not being given an opportunity to lend their expertise to schools or sports associations in their development programmes.
“We are not asking to be paid high salaries. All we are asking is an opportunity to work with the children in the schools and impart our knowledge,” said Sri Shanmuganthan, the 1975 Malaysian World Cup hockey team skipper.
Former Malaysian Hockey Federation secretary and international hockey umpire, G. Vijayanathan, said that sports officials should be former sportsmen and women.
 “Sports associations should be led by former sportsmen and women so that the passion is pure and their sole interest is sports,” he commented.
 Former sprint ace, Mani Jegathesan, whose 200m record of 20.92 seconds set in the 1968 Mexico Olympics still stands, said: “Times have changed with so many distractions for athletes, but at the end of the day, it is what the athletes want. They have to set the standards and be prepared to make sacrifices to achieve their goal.”
 At the end of the night, all left with a wide smile that there are some who still recognised our forgotten athletes, but deep inside they were sad that they could not return to the sports they are passionate about.
Here’s hoping that better recognition is given to our past heroes and let us use their experience in any small way we can. It is sad that their burning passion for sports is left to simmer inside them and not shared with the budding talent who are the future of the nation’s sports.

 Athletes and officials who were honoured at the dinner:

Athletics: Annie Choong, M. Jegathesan, Nashatar Singh, T. Krishnan, Karu Selvaratnam, R. Subramaniam, A. Vaithilingam
 Football: Peter Velappan, Wong Choon Wah, N. Thanabalan, M. Kuppan, M. Karathu
 Hockey: R. Yogeswaran, C. Paramalingam, G. Vijayanathan
 Badminton: Yew Cheng Hoe
 Cycling: Shaharudin Jaffar 

TONY MARIADASS is sports editor of
The Malay Mail. He can be reached at
Twitter handle: @tmariadass

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