The sporting arena never fails to fan Malaysians’ patriotic fervour
WHEN one talks about unity in sports, an often-cited quote by the late South African president Nelson Mandela comes to mind.
He said: “Sports has the power to unite people in a way that little else can. It can create hope where once there was only despair. It breaks down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of discrimination. Sports speaks to people in a language they can understand.”
The great man’s words holds true in a multiracial society such as Malaysia.
When it comes to sports, Malaysians are a passionate lot.
Sports brings people of all walks of life together.
Although sometimes there are negativity and criticism of local athletes and certain sports, Malaysians can be depended on to stand behind their compatriots in both victory and defeat.
Consider the annual pilgrimage of European football teams, especially those in the English Premier League, to our shores.
When the so-called giants of football, who enjoy widespread following in this part of the world, came to take on the Malaysian side, questions arose regarding where the loyalty of the local supporters lay.
Of course, the visitors do get a rousing welcome but when the match kicks off, the fans cheer both teams.
No Malaysian turned on their national team during these matches, as the urge to back orang kita (our people) kicks in naturally.
For example, when Liverpool played the Malaysian XI Selection at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil recently, the stadium was a sea of red Liverpool jerseys and T-shirts but when Patrick Wleh, a Liberian striker plying his trade with PKNS FC, peeled away from the Reds’ defence to put the Malaysian XI selection 1-0 up, all 50,000 in the stadium rose as one to applaud the home side.
At that particular moment, the colour of their shirts did not matter.
National pride took over, even if it was at the expense of the fans’ favourite team.
It is the same for the millions who were glued to their television sets to watch Malaysia athletes in popular sporting events such as the Thomas Cup and Suzuki Cup competitions.
There are not many things in this world which is comparable to the pride and feeling of seeing the Jalur Gemilang flying high and listening to Negaraku being played at these events, especially in a foreign land.
Malaysians come together as one for sports not only in good times, but in challenging situations as well.
There is no better example than the overwhelming support for badminton ace Lee Chong Wei during his doping ordeal.
Throughout the ordeal, the 33-year-old Lee was not alone.
Based on the support from Malaysians – from Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin to the people on the street – Lee knew he was not fighting the war alone as he prepared to face the Badminton World Federation hearing.
The outpouring of support on many platforms, especially on social media, touched the shuttler’s heart.
In the end, all Malaysians’ prayers were answered as Lee was not handed a lengthy ban which would have cut short his career and jeopardised his chances of bagging a world title or an Olympics gold medal.
“Thank you fans and supporters. I love you all,” the badminton player posted on his Facebook page after winning the US Open title in June – his first triumph since returning to action after the ban.
When the 2013 Women’s World Squash Championship was held in squash queen Nicol David’s hometown Penang, it was a perfect setting for her to clinch her eighth world title.
However, she lost in the semi-finals to Egyptian Nour El Sherbini.
This did not deter David’s fans and many came out in support of the Malaysian squash player after that setback in her home state.
To her credit, she reinforced her standing as one of, if not the best, athletes Malaysia has ever produced by going on to bag her eighth world title in the 2014 World Championship in Cairo, Egypt, last December.
To this day, she continues to be one of Malaysia’s most well-liked and successful sports personalities.
There are several things which rank high in most Malaysian sports fans’ wish list.
Somewhere near the top of the list is the desire to see the Malaysian national football team qualify for the FIFA World Cup Finals in our lifetime.
Realistically, our best chance of being in the World Cup is by hosting the tournament.
Asean is preparing to make a bid host the World Cup in 2034, and Malaysia could be one of the four co-hosts.
Two more items on the wish list would be to regain our position as a top badminton powerhouse in the world and to unearth capable Malaysian successors to step in after David’s domination in squash.
But at the top most of the list will be the quest to win Malaysia’s first-ever gold medal in the Olympics.
The next edition of this mother-of-all sporting events will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August 2016.
So far, we have silver and bronze Olympic medals.
What a perfect gift it would be to all Malaysians when they celebrate the country’s National Day next year.