THE late South African president Nelson Mandela once said, “Sports has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”
Even our father of Independence Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj believed that sports has the capacity to bring people closer to unity and foster racial harmony.
His inclusion of a Youth and Sports portfolio during his premiership led to the eventual formation of the Youth and Sports Ministry in 1973.
In the spirit of the nation’s 57th year of independence, StarMetro caught up with four individuals, who have helped cultivate unity among Malaysians through organising badminton tournaments.
“It started in 2006 when I helped out another organiser run tournaments because I can speak English, Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin,” badminton tournament organiser Samuel Nesan said.
The 25-year-old said that he took on the responsibility voluntarily and did not mind the work because he found it interesting.
“I enjoy working with people, especially with those of different races and different backgrounds, who share the common interest of badminton.
“As an organiser, I find that sports enables people to have the opportunity to come together and unite and it does not really matter the how much prize money is offered.
“Sports is one area where there is little or no discrimination, people just come together and enjoy the game.
“As long as a platform is provided for people to play together, sweat it out and to have fun together, people will unite.
“Social badminton competitions such as these provide opportunities for us to achieve unity amidst the diversity of the Malaysian community,” Samuel said.
When he is not organising badminton tournaments, Samuel juggles his time studying for his Masters in Theology at the Malaysia Theological Seminary in Seremban and managing a professional badminton team — Kepong BC — from his office at Powerful Sports Arena in Kepong.
Kepong BC owner Candy Bee shares Samuel’s sentiments and insists that her team has a fair representation of Malaysians of all ethnicities.
“As a student of theology, I also take a keen interest in the multicultural diversity in Malaysia because it complements what I study.
“My interest in promoting racial unity in Malaysia is very much prompted by my passion to understand the diverse religions in Malaysia,” Samuel explained.
It was only in 2011 that Samuel decided to organise his first tournament after gaining the necessary experience through helping others organise junior and social tournaments.
“It was much harder than I anticipated at first but I am the type who prefers to finish whatever I have started, even if it results in failure.
“Giving up was never on my mind, honestly, and although it didn’t go quite as planned, I learnt from my mistakes and kept getting better at it,” he said.
Samuel shares his passion with three of his friends he met during the various tournaments.
Joann Joseph, Adam Zakri Marzuki and Joanne Wong each help out with different aspects of the tournaments but share the same passion for getting people who love badminton under the same roof.
For Adam, 29, a marketing executive, logistics, searching for a suitable venue and making sure everything is in place before the start are part of his responsibilities.
“I have been involved in badminton for a while now but I still enjoy it because I get to meet a lot of people and we come together in one place.
“It gives me satisfaction when I see people enjoying the game regardless of what views they have in life. And when we’re there, we just share whatever it is we have and enjoy the game,” Adam said.
Joann, 27, oversees the refereeing, scorekeeping and helps with decision-making on behalf of the organising committee when any issues arise.
“We have an understanding that we would be able to work together. Despite our different races and cultures, we are able work as one to bring a tournament to life.
“I think we are setting a good example for others when we come together in unity and make a tournament a success.
“As Henry Ford said, ‘Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success,” Joann added.
Mass communications student Wong, 21, helps with the draw, timekeeping as well as emceeing the events.
She finds even though they are of different races, everything goes smoothly and is never a problem.
“I do not see any differences among us, we are all one and we have fun working with each other,” she said.
According to Samuel, his tournaments always end up having a good mix of young and old from different races, with some people even willing to travel from as far as Sabah and Sarawak to participate.
When it is game time and a tournament is underway, pressure is high on the players as it is with the crowd’s excitement, but the days before the tournament are equally stressful for the organisers.
Samuel recalled the time when the pre-designated umpires retracted their attendance on the eve of the tournament.
The next day saw regular people — parents of players, players themselves and even spectators, who were from all races, — respond to the predicament by willingly filling up the unmanned posts.
“It was an embarrassing situation that worked out well thanks to everyone coming together. I was so touched and grateful to see such support from people I did not even know,” Samuel said.
“Political and ideological differences aside, I sense that deep down we Malaysians possess a longing to socialise and interact with people of other races.
“Social badminton events such as mine don’t create this desire. They are platforms for us to express and demonstrate that sense of unity which we already possess,” he added.
The four of them are looking to take their tournaments to greater heights so that more people can join in so that more Malaysians can enjoy what they have in common and experience the spirit of the game and sportsmanship transcend race and cultural difference.
It should not matter that Malaysia is formed of people from different races, what is important is everyone coming together at the end of the day and putting aside stereotypes while remembering they are Malaysian.
As Nelson Mandela said, “ It (sports) is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”