Nicol David (left) celebrates after beating England's Laura Massaro for the Commonwealth Games gold medal. She is among a few Malaysian athletes who have truly done the country proud at the highest stage.
NELSON Mandela’s famous quote still rings loudly – “Sport 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.”
The recently concluded World Cup and Commonwealth Games stand true to this.
Every four years, the whole world comes to a standstill during the one month of World Cup action, in awe of top football teams from all corners of the world.
Many of the players are national and global football “gods” to the young and mature alike. The likes of Neymar, Messi and Ronaldo have the power to inspire people, especially the youth in a unique way; the way that only sports and its idols can.
We Malaysians are a sports-loving nation. Hearing fans talk about the Premier League at the mamak shop can be funny and scary at the same time, as they get territorial about the teams they support.
It’s a shame we are not as inspired by our local Malaysian football league, which has been in much turmoil over the years.
Most main roads and highways in Malaysia were almost empty on the night of the Thomas Cup final.
Even non-sports fans in Malaysian tuned in to support our shuttlers in search of national glory. Our boys put up a gritty display for a team that was given a vote of no confidence, but sadly our wait to lift the Thomas Cup continues.
Malaysia has been suffering a dearth in sporting heroes of late. In current times, we are lifted time and again by the personalities who have glorified Malaysian sports for many years – top shuttler Lee Chong Wei, squash queen Nicol David and Olympic bronze medallist Pandelela Rinong.
The country has had successes in cycling, shooting, lawn bowling and weightlifting but these are few and far between. Big sports such as football and hockey continue to disappoint and it has left us without heroes we so want to cheer on.
In my opinion, we are in this sad state of affairs because of three reasons.
Firstly, we have a schooling system that over-emphasises academic success and downplays the importance of physical activities and sports.
This leaves National Sports Associations (NSAs) with a much smaller talent pool to pick from as parents continue to pressure kids into academic excellence.
A second factor is a deep-rooted bias within the selection system in sports that has been rotting over the years. It is a sensitive issue but a glaring one as we have more often than not sent less qualified athletes to represent the country for reasons only known to the NSAs.
The selection processes are not transparent and non-performing NSAs are let off scot-free without having to justify poor performances.
To top it all, youngsters going into sports, unless they are extremely talented like Nicol, are not likely to be backed by the government. This often results in these athletes opting out of sports to take up something else as a means of securing their future.
The short time frame of an athlete’s sporting career makes it very challenging to secure sufficient funds before retirement unless they reach the pinnacle of their respective fields.
Until the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the NSAs mend this through improved funding and career alternatives for athletes who have passed their prime, there is no incentive for youths to opt for a sporting career.
As glamorous as it can be, there is a harsh financial reality once the curtains are down.
Failing to reach our meek seven gold target at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow after a massive 12 golds in Delhi in 2010 is disappointing and alarming.
The sports landscape in Malaysia needs a major overhaul and this has to be done hand-in-hand with the development of sports at the grassroots level.
Much is to be gained from a healthy sporting culture. Apart from national pride and glory, sport has the ability to instil in young minds key attributes of hard work, will power and discipline in becoming successful individuals.
As Whitney Houston aptly sang, “everybody’s searching for a hero …”.
We are too and we hope the wait will be over soon.
Kavitha Aruljothi is a sports enthusiast who is anxiously waiting for Malaysia to achieve further sporting glory by tapping into the vast potential that remains submerged.