WATCHING the badminton men’s doubles final in the Commonwealth Games last month, I was reminded of the power of sport to bring people together.
If you recall, the Malaysian pair of Tan Wee Kiong and Goh V Shem were playing Singapore’s Danny Chrisnanta and Chayut Triyachart in the gold medal match in Glasgow.
In a keenly-fought contest, the Malaysians won the first game 21-12 but dropped the next by the same scoreline. With everything on the line in the final game, Tan and Goh played quite superb attacking badminton to win 21-15, securing Malaysia’s sixth and final gold medal of the Games in the process.
Badminton had contributed two other gold medals earlier through the mixed team event and women’s doubles pair of Vivian Khoo and Woon Khe Wei.
But more than the gold medals, it was seeing the support given to our players that warmed the cockles of my heart.
I watched the men’s doubles match on television and every so often the camera would pick out Malaysian spectators in the crowd.
Whenever Tan and Goh won a point, they would be on their feet cheering and waving the Jalur Gemilang.
There was one pak cik in particular who would win any fan-of-the-year award hands down. Dressed in a costume made from the colours of the Malaysian flag, he was so fervent in his support that even the match commentators called him their favourite fan.
I’m not usually into flag waving as a superficial display of patriotism, but if I had been at the badminton venue with a flag in my hand, I would have waved it as enthusiastically as the next supporter.
It’s a common occurrence during badminton matches – and sports events in general – that we cheer on our athletes as Malaysians. Not as representatives of a particular race or religion but as fellow citizens of this country.
Whether it’s Datuk Lee Chong Wei in yet another badminton final, or Datuk Nicol David in squash, or Pandelela Rinong in diving, or any Malaysian athlete who’s representing the country in their sport, we support them as Malaysians.
Sport has this ability to make us forget about racial, religious and cultural differences and to regard ourselves as Malaysians in support of our athletes.
It’s a remarkable contrast to the divisiveness, racism and extremism we see around us in the country today.
In fact, when you consider the attempts by certain groups to divide our society, the emphasis on race and religion in identifying people and the discontent over perceived discrimination, and then think back to how we as Malaysians cheered on our badminton players without giving a second thought to race or cultural background, the contrast can be quite jarring.
Why is it only in the sporting arena that it seems we can set aside our differences without compulsion or difficulty?
Perhaps it is because our athletes who compete at international level are representing the country, carrying with them the name and flag of Malaysia, not of a particular state or ethnic group.
Therefore we find it easier to identify them – and consequently ourselves, in supporting them – as Malaysians.
Also, when they do well, we feel a collective sense of pride that a Malaysian can succeed on the world stage.
In the face of rising tension and extremism at home, perhaps we need to revisit the Malaysianness we display in supporting our athletes and revive it in other areas, from politics and governance to our interaction with one another.
As the badminton final showed, we are able to cheer one another on as Malaysians. We just need to extend it beyond sports to make it part of our everyday life in this nation, to accept each other as fellow Malaysians without question or suspicion and to live peaceably and harmoniously with one another.