There are signs that more lean times are ahead for Malaysian fans.
SPORTS unite people. Whenever the Olympics or World Cup is held, fans from participating nations unite to support their countries, and in the case of the latter, usually Brazil.
Malaysia is still a small player in the world of sports but in the early days following independence, sports played a key role in nation-building.
Iconic figures like Wong Peng Soon and Eddy Choong helped set up Malaysia as a badminton powerhouse, while the feats of Ghani Minhat and M. Jegathesan became the talk of lore.
Malaysia was a young nation then and children were inspired by tales of these heroes, who brought glory to Malaysia by themselves through gruelling homespun training regimes, without any lucrative sponsorship money.
In recent times, the Jalur Gemilang has flown at many sporting events and athletes like Datuk Nicol David, Datuk Lee Chong Wei and Pandelela Rinong have achieved world-class standards through sheer talent, hard work and determination.
Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that their success has been in spite of the system and not because of it.
For while these inspiring stories warm the heart, there are alarming signs all around us.
Deteriorating pitches, crowd violence, athletes outnumbered by officials at competitive meets, hockey coach in, then out and then in again. The list goes on and on.
Take badminton, for instance. When I was young, we had singles players like Rashid Sidek, Ong Ewe Hock and Wong Choong Hann playing alongside doubles players like Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah and Cheah Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock.
They were truly world-class and Malaysia used to mount a serious challenge for titles like the Sudirman Cup and Thomas Cup. But now it feels as if only Chong Wei is in that category.
This year, we hosted the Sudirman Cup and many expected us to at least qualify for the quarter-finals.
Instead, we were humiliated by Taiwan and Germany in the group stages and subsequently lost out of a place in the quarter-finals.
It was an utter disgrace. Our women shuttlers were young and inexperienced but the biggest disappointments were the extremely talented but underachieving pair of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong.
Some players take responsibility for the defeat but I’m not altogether impressed with the reaction of the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), which seemed keen to deflect the issue.
Maybe the folk in BAM are learning from their football counterparts because those in the FAM management also tend to think that they know it all.
Anyone offering suggestions or criticism usually end up paying the price.
Tan Sri Annuar Musa and Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail who incurred the wrath of FAM were handed bans.
Next on the list appears to be Datuk Shahidan Kassim, who claimed that FAM ignored the pleas of Perlis Football Association.
And of course, prominent coaches like B. Sathianathan and Datuk K. Rajagopal, too, have also been hauled up over the past few years.
Meanwhile, our national team seems to be ranked lower and lower each passing year.
Sad to say, they seem to be more eager in hunting for “cuti-cuti” assignments. Last week, they just returned from a fruitful trip Down Under.
We lost two games and won one. Not with the Australian National Team or even A-League sides but against lower league clubs.
Rajagopal said that he was satisfied with the team’s performance and it was good preparation to face Chelsea and Barcelona.
FAM needs to plan well next season. It’s great to see new rules being set for next season’s league but consistency is what we want. Changing formats all the time will not help.
As for the national team, the association and coaching staff need to understand that we need more A-grade friendly matches to gain better international exposure and ranking points.
FAM should be open to ideas and listen to criticism. This will help rebuild and improve the status of FAM.
As for BAM, it needs to restructure the training programme and find ways to breed the new “Chong Weis”.
The fact that we are putting our future Olympic hopes in 2016 and 2020 on Chong Wei and Nicol is telling.
If there is one person who can represent the fans’ voice, it’s Khairy Jamaluddin. The new Youth and Sports Minister has fresh ideas and I’m hopeful that he can rejuvenate the sports scene in Malaysia.
Let’s hope that we would be able to do well in the upcoming SEA Games in Myanmar and hopefully we will also get our first Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016.
I’ve something to say to the fans, too.
Yes, some of our athletes have performed badly and we criticise them. That doesn’t mean we should stop supporting them.
When you put on the jersey, the name on the front is more important than the name on the back.
Athletes rely on fans for support and if they feel down during a game, the chants of the fans will pump them up.
Change should come from every side and, as fans, we should also do our part to contribute to the change.
> T. Avineshwaran is grateful for the support of his own fans – his family, friends and colleagues – without whom he would not be the man he is today.