Sport can bring people together, but it takes immense positivity to drown out the detractors.
LET’S be honest.
That cliche so many of us have been putting out there over the past week, that sports unifies people, is just that: a cliche.
Don’t get me wrong; it is not that I disagree with the phrase at all.
In fact, I have used it many times as well, after hearing my father use it regularly when I was a child.
And considering the events at the recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who would not believe it?
It was not just that the Games closed with our country leaving with our biggest haul ever; four silvers and one bronze but the way in which our amazing athletes showed grit, passion and courage is enough to probably inspire a whole generation.
The problem with cliches, however, is that when used by a large number of people, it can come across as hyperbolic.
To make things worse, it is so easy to buy into it, so much so that we have heard people going as far as saying that the whole country is behind our athletes, and that everyone is proud of the achievements of our sportsmen and sportswomen and we all stand by them.
The sad truth, as we discovered last weekend when our badminton mixed-doubles team lost in the finals against a far superior Indonesian team, is that this is not always the case.
A couple of news organisations decided to declare the duo a disappointment, and that they could only manage to win a silver medal.
On Facebook and Twitter, divisive discussions along racial lines were made.
A police report was also lodged to get the Government to reconsider the lifetime pension it was offering to our Olympic medalists for their success.
I bring this up not to throw cold water on the euphoria that has swept the nation following our Olympic Games success.
My point here is that sports alone cannot unite people.
It is people who have to choose to come together for sports to have any impact on unity.
In Malaysia, our athletes have long garnered the respect of the general public, transcending racial issues, which unfortunately plague our society today.
In Malaysia, our amazing athletes over the decades are as diverse as the multitude of citizens supporting them.
Over the years, we have stood by our many football and hockey teams which have both seen great success as well as many of these other great athletes such as Tan Aik Huang, M Jegathesan, Nurul Huda Abdullah, Nicol David, the Sidek brothers, Jeffrey Ong, Alex Lim, Watson Nyambek, Khoo Cai Lin, Daniel Bego, Shalin Zulkifli, Josiah Ng, Azizul Awang, Pandelela Renong, Sazali Samad, Alex Yoong and so many more.
But we come together to celebrate our fellow Malaysians in fields other than sports as well.
From Michelle Yeoh to Jimmy Choo, Guang Liang to Fish Leong, Zang Toi to Shila Amzah, Yuna to Tash Aw, these are all names all of us are so proud to be associated with often.
Heck, we even tried to stake claim on Australian Idol Guy Sebastian (who was born in Klang) and Singapore’s first gold medalist Joseph Schooling (whose mother hails from Ipoh).
The fact is, people can choose to come together for many reasons, and they often do.
Unfortunately, because sports competitions and markers of success in the creative industries, for example, often come in spurts, that is not always easy to sustain.
However, as we have seen with our medal winners in the diving, cycling and badminton events in Rio, Malaysians can come together with little effort and willing to put themselves through the “heart attacks” and kanchiong feeling with little qualms in the name of national pride.
We cannot always speak for everyone or convince others to feel like us, but the past week has also shown us that positive spirit can drown out the detractors or those hell bent on keeping us divided.
Sure, one or two of the negative updates and tweets seeped into my timelines, but they were equally easy to ignore when there were so many more uplifting posts to focus on.
It does not cost us very much to be positive and to come together.
Let us not wait four years for this to happen again, or the next All-England championship or world championship for diving, cycling or squash.
We do not have to wait until our writers get shortlisted for another Booker prize, or for our singers to sell out concerts in foreign countries or become a Hollywood star.
We can wake up every morning knowing that every person we walk past or meet that day are our brothers and sisters, no matter how different they may seem.
Niki is a PhD researcher in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham, UK. Connect with him online at www.nikicheong.com/fb