I PLAY a little bit of badminton, and I know next to nothing about squash. This holds true for many Malaysians.
We know that badminton has always been the more popular sport, which is why a loss in badminton resonates louder than a win in squash.
But we also know, though we often forget, that both of you have the same burden on your shoulders. Each time you don your sponsored gear and make your way into the arena, the weight of our national flag rests on you.
That weight is far heavier than the weight of your racquets. And the results you deliver are louder than the cries of your fans.
I don’t know if you know this, but your wins are always more than just trophies, medals, speculated public holidays and world rankings.
Your wins tell us that we are good enough. It tells us that Malaysia is worth supporting.
It tells us that it’s cool to be fans of our own country despite what is happening in the world of politics.
It tells us that when we are judged fairly, we can triumph.
But what about losing?
Sometimes my heart breaks when I see you cry (and even more when you try not to) when you clinch second place.
I could tell that in your world, coming in second is not an option. In this cruel world, there’s no room for critics to go easy on you, and a silver medal is as good as none.
Your injuries are seen as excuses, and your off-form day is seen as a weakness. Your only option is to pick yourselves up and try harder the next time.
And you’ve picked yourselves up so many times. When you do that, you remind us to pick ourselves up too. Each time you compete in a grand finale, the nation comes together to cheer you on (even when you can’t hear it).
We probably don’t play badminton or squash, and know very little about the sports.
But we watch because we want so much for you to chalk up a win for our country.
In just one intense hour, you’ve united us all in a way that even the best leaders in our country cannot for 57 years.
Despite your wins and losses, you keep doing that. Every single time.
I don’t worship you, because you are not gods. But your strength and determination don’t make you mere humans either. Maybe you are superheroes. Or maybe you are just the prime examples of who each of us can be if we only try.
If only we learn to focus our wins for everyone and not just ourselves. And take our losses like a man (or woman), suck it up and try again.
I don’t worship you, but I sure as heck wish I could be more like you.
I don’t know what this means to you, but I just want to say, “it’s okay when you don’t get first place”.
In my world, coming in second is okay too. Or third. Or simply just participating. Because out of 30 million people in our country, two of you stepped up.
And out of seven billion people in the world, you bulldozed your way to the top. And you’re trying to make a way for others to succeed you.
So what if China wins once in a while? So what if England beats you? If I took my badminton skills to competition, I don’t think I can even pass the kampung level!
Give yourselves a break, we can hold the fort while you recover. If the two of you can carry the weight of our country for so long, 30 million of us should be able to do it for a while. And if we can’t, it just means we should learn how to.
We also don’t realise that you don’t always belong to us and how easy it could be for us to lose you. Just because you’re born here doesn’t make you obligated to represent the country (just look at Singapore’s ping-pong team). But you stayed anyway. Some of us don’t know how much that really means.
So thank you. Not just because we all come from Penang (ahem), but because people like you teach me to be a little stronger every day.
You’re probably worried no one will be there to succeed you (and so are we), but that’s no longer your burden to bear.
That is the burden of the people in charge of making the crucial decisions of our country’s future in sports. If they make a wrong call, it’s on them, not you. You’ve done your best, and the world and God bear witness.
Thank you for giving us a reason to believe that we always have a chance. Thank you for sharing the prime time of your lives with the country. And I thank your loved ones for sharing you with us.
Thank you, for thinking about people like me in every game you play. For making us Malaysians feel like we’re worth fighting for. And for making Merdeka mean something to us.
Our forefathers came together to bring about our independence. Today, you fight a different kind of battle just to remind us what it’s all about.
I just want you to know that, on days when you feel like you’re all alone in this battle, the whole country is behind you. If you don’t believe me, just ask that roti canai uncle at that mamak around the corner and he’ll tell you.
Happy Merdeka to you. Happy Merdeka to us. From a very grateful Malaysian, Vern.
HOR WEI VERN
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