I HAD a deja vu moment on Tuesday when I watched our SEA Games squash players being put through their paces at the National Squash Centre in Bukit Jalil.
It brought me back to 1998, when I first visited our national sports stadium, just before the Commonwealth Games. Our new national stadium had just been built, the pride of the country, and our group of journalists was taken on a tour of the facilities before the games started.
Fast forward to the present, and the National Squash Centre is a spanking new edifice, befitting a country that can claim to be a squash powerhouse (thanks mostly to Nicol David’s exploits).
With just over a week left to go before Kuala Lumpur 2017, work to get all the venues ready for the big day is proceeding at a frenzied pace. In fact, the entire national stadium complex resembles one big work site with roads being tarred, tractors and lorries in every direction, and workers applying new coats of paint for the venues.
The squash complex itself, while still being used by the players, is not 100% ready. Final touch-ups are still being done on parts of the centre, but that has not distracted our national squash team.
The team, a mixture of talented juniors and seniors, has been set a seven-gold target. They are expected to sweep the singles (men and women), doubles (men, women and mixed) and team (men and women) events.
Coach Mohd Shahril Shahidan told us that the team was looking forward to making the nation proud during the Games.
“We have a young side and many of them are representing the country for the first time. But all of them are motivated in bringing back the gold for Malaysia,” he said.
Malaysia hasn’t hosted a SEA Games since 2001, also the year that we last topped the final medal tally. Can we do it again? To do it would probably take a 100-plus medal count to topple Thailand, the overall champion of the last two games.
The organising committee of the Games has called on Malaysians to come out and support our medal hopefuls, but a check on the official SEA Games website indicates that a lot of the venues will be under-capacity.
This could probably be due to the fact that Malaysians are notorious for doing things at the last minute. That’s a shame because it’s a breeze to buy tickets off the official website, www.kualalumpur2017.com.my.
My friends and I purchased tickets for the Malaysia v Myanmar football match on Aug 21 at the Shah Alam Stadium, and it only costs RM10 each.
In fact, the majority of venues are only charging RM10 per entry – ridiculously cheap. A lot of the sporting events are also being offered free to spectators, and this includes events in the National Stadium.
Personally though, I am looking forward to catching Malaysian sprint star Khairul Hafiz Jantan in action in the Men’s 100m final on Aug 22.
The speedster recently broke the Malaysian national 200m record, to go with the 100m record he clinched last year, and we all hope that he can beat the best of South-East Asia in the Blue Riband event.
His battle with defending champion Eric Shauwn Cray of the Philippines is sure to be one of the highlights of the games. I hope to be in the national stadium to catch him in action, and I’m sure I’ll be joined by tens of thousands of Malaysians.
These tens of thousands of spectators are encouraged to take public transport to get to the games. Be it synchronised swimming at the Aquatics Centre in Bukit Jalil or football at the Shah Alam Stadium, try taking the bus, trains, LRT or MRT.
In fact, the newly launched MRT Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) line will face a litmus test for the games as there will be a significant ridership spike during this period. The organising committee will make free bike-sharing services available to and from LRT/MRT stations for the public to get to the sporting venues.
Volunteers for the games, numbering around 4,000, will also be encouraged to do this and the target of 30% of volunteers and spectators to travel by public transport is certainly possible.
Malaysians should also be mindful that the KL Games, which ends on Aug 30, will be attended by thousands of athletes, officials, media, and visitors from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. These “tourists” should be afforded courtesy and a dose of Malaysian hospitality.
The majority of hotels in the Klang Valley are expected to be fully occupied for the duration of the games and this in turn should see a boost in retail spending for many of the shopping malls in August and possibly September.
With the SEA Games falling smack in the middle of the National Day month, the writer hopes that Malaysians will support our athletes by putting up the Jalur Gemilang and wearing the #anakanakmalaysia wristband.
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