Friday, July 8, 2016

Small sacrifice for nation's pride


Salutations to the Rio Olympics-bound Muslim athletes who were abroad training for the greatest sports event in the world during the Ramadan month and now during the Hari Raya celebrations.
The athletes who are away are from cycling, diving, archery and weightlifting. The athletes who are involved in the Asean University Games to begin in Singapore on Sunday and the World Youth Athletics championship in Poland in a fortnight’s time are also in training and may have missed the celebrations too.
But it is a small sacrifice to make to do the nation proud.
The Olympics, especially, comes once every four years and only an elite group of athletes make the cut. They should be honoured to be at this top level in the country.
Since Malaysia (then Malaya) took part in their first Olympics at the 1954 Melbourne Games until the last London Games four years ago, we have had 272 male and 47 female athletes, for a total of 319 Olympians, compete in the Games. They are indeed a rare breed.
While many of the athletes in training during Ramadan and the celebrations have been positive about their sacrifice and are taking things in their stride, there are a couple who are not even overseas but have been giving out negative vibes about training, their personal well-being and the environment in Rio de Janeiro.
Athletes have to be mentally strong, especially on a stage like the Olympics and can expect no favours.
Competing in a world sports event is equivalent to going to battle. There is nothing fair in a battlefield, the environment may be alien and there will be challenges very step of the way.
What our athletes are sacrificing is nothing compared to what our security, health and fire personnel provide 24/7 for 365 days, and who have to be away from their families during the festivities time and again.
While we have a strong group of athletes, many of whom are true professionals with passion and dreams, there are a few who can adversely affect the morale of the contingent.
Some are even making excuses for themselves even before the battle has begun.
Malaysian athletes have been very lucky and well taken off compared with those around the world who have had to make tremendous sacrifices not only to make it to their Olympic team but also go on to win medals.
Sacrifice has become an alien word to some Malaysian athletes as they are well looked after in terms of training, coaches, facilities, overseas stints and even monetary rewards.
Our athletes need not look far for examples. Just look at the 10 refugee athletes from Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia who will compete not just for Olympic glory but also for the dignity of the world’s 65.3 million displaced people.
In the face of unprecedented global displacement as a result of war, despotism and poverty, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made an unprecedented political statement to admit the first Refugee Olympic Team.
Imagine what these 10 athletes would have undergone in their countries and then fled or got rescued – endured war, lost family members, had no homes, stayed in camps and had no food or medicine.
These athletes are determined to give their best and even if they do not win medals, they would have competed in the world’s highest sports platform despite all the adversities they faced.
Malaysian athletes are truly blessed and must take their cue from these refugee athletes. After all, despite being a sports-friendly nation with full support from the government, we are still chasing the elusive gold medal.
Hopefully, the chase will end in Rio.
There are a few who are very determined to make that happen, such as badminton ace Lee Chong Wei. We have other sports like diving, cycling and archery which have potential medal winners.
But the contingent must make a concerted effort to keep the morale high throughout the Games and return from Rio with the best possible results.
Once again praise for all the athletes who have trained hard and do not want to return from the Olympics empty-handed. At worst, they could set new national records.
On that note, Selamat Hari Raya to all our Muslim athletes, coaches and officials.

TONY is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
local sports.
He can be reached at
Twitter: @tmariadass​

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