COMMUNICATIONS and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak said something very pertinent the other day.
No, not that stuff about having the Wall Street Journal stand in the Malaysian elections. He said politicians could learn from sportspeople and by doing so, Malaysia could become united in the true sense.
That, I have to agree with.
We have seen it in this past month or so, including the outpouring of joy when the Malaysian Olympians came home with an unprecedented four silver-one bronze medal haul from Rio. They were showered with love, from Penang to Putrajaya and on to Petra Jaya.
There were, of course, one or two sour grapes, who griped about supposed “kiasus” who would only take part in individual sports for the money.
Now, we have reason to celebrate again. The Paralympians have taken three gold medals – a feat never achieved before.
It was something very special, better even than what the able-bodied Olympians had to offer.
There was Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi, running the race of his life to pip the Chinese to the gold. And what a sight he made on the podium.
The lad, who has cerebral palsy, cannot mouth words the way most of us do. On that podium, when NegaraKu came on, he sang his heart out.
It must have been very diffficult, but sing he did. Most of us who saw it were reduced to tears. “A magnificent champion,” the commentator called him.
There was also the scene immediately after when he hugged coach R. Jeganathan.
“He is my son,” cried Jeganathan. “All the scolding, all the pushing that I did was for you to do this,” he told the younger man in a moment so emotional that even the TV host had to choke back her tears. It was the Malaysia we dearly want to see.
Jeganathan has his own story. In January last year, a car rammed into his motorcyle in an early morning hit-and-run accident while he was on his way to training.
He suffered a broken pelvis and spinal cord fractures, and was told that he may need a wheelchair or have to walk with the aid of braces. But walk he did, and now he stands tall with his protege.
Then, there was shot putter Ziyad Zolkfeli. As the national anthem played, he was weeping. It was that important a moment for him. He had to wipe away his tears with his sleeve when the song ended.
His father said: “I still remember when my son was taught to read when he was in Year Five by an Indian teacher until he became third in the class.
“His sporting talent was spotted and assisted by a Chinese teacher in Kelantan. Until today, the teacher still follows his development.
“This is what sports is all about. There is no race or religion.”
And there is no limit either. The Paralympians have shown that they are as good as the able-bodied. Abdul Latif Romly broke the Paralympics world long jump record three times. He is already the Sukma champion, beating the able-bodied.
This is not about race or religion, as some columnist would have us believe. All three at the Paralympics also won in individual events.
It’s about the desire to wear the badge for the nation, either as an individual or as a team.
Talking of teams, remember the only time our football team was at the Olympics in 1972?
M. Chandran was captain. We also had Shahruddin Abdullah as master poacher and Wong Kam Fook as the super goalkeeper, who kept the mighty Germans out for an entire first half.
The others in the team were Othman Abdullah, Ali Bakar, Looi Loon Teik, Lim Fung Kee, Bahwandi Hiralal, Khoo Luan Khen, Wong Choon Wah, Salleh Ibrahim, Namat Abdullah, Soh Chin Aun, Wan Zawawi, Harun Jusoh, Rahim Abdullah, Mohammed Bakar and Hamzah Hussein.
In 1980, we qualified again but did not go to Moscow. This time we had Chin Aun back – as captain. James Wong and Hassan Sani were the heroes in front with R. Arumugam in goal. The others were Santokh Singh, Bakri Ibni, Shukor Salleh, Khalid Ali, Abdah Alif, S. Pushpanathan, Tukamin Bahari, Ramli Junit, Zulkifli Hamzah, Abdullah Ali, Peter Rajah, Ong Yu Tiang, Jamal Nasir, Kamaruddin Abdullah, D. Davendran and Wan Jamak Hassan.
It wasn’t just football. Even the 1975 hockey team that beat India and finished fourth in the World Cup was a truly Malaysian team led by N. Sri Shanmuganathan.
He had the likes of Khairuddin Zainal, Mohamed Azraai Zain, M. Mahendran and Poon Fook Loke for company along with A. Francis, Brian Sta Maria, the two Balasingams – K and S – Phang Poh Meng, Wong Choon Hin, R. Pathmarajah, Len Oliveiro, M. Palanisamy, R. Ramakrishnan and Franco D’Cruz.
Those were teams that were all-inclusive. Today, our national teams are almost communal teams. Is it the fault of certain communities who do not want to play team sports? Or is it the selectors who pick the teams along communal lines?
That is the question that needs to be answered. But it is a question for another day.
Today is Sept 16, Malaysia Day. A day to celebrate. With the feats of our Olympians and Paralympians, it feels good to be Malaysian – until the politicians step into the fray again.
- The writer, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org is glad that the past Paralympian medallists are finally being given the honour – and monthly allowance – that they richly deserve.
Dorairaj Nadason is The Star’s Executive Editor.
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