When football united a nation

I REFER to Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin’s column “Watching nervously as events unfold” (#AbidinIdeas, The Star, July 30; online at bit.ly/star_merdeka).

I agree with the writer’s view on the role of sports as a catalyst for nation-building and national unity. He correctly highlighted the exemplary initiative of our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, in promoting sports, particularly football, as a vehicle to foster national harmony and cohesion.

As has been well-documented, the Tunku was the brainchild behind the Merdeka Tournament. It made its debut in 1957 to commemorate the country’s independence. As someone who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, I fondly recall the excitement of football fans throughout the country in following the event. It was traditionally held in August. I recall the local newspapers devoting extensive coverage to the tournament, including articles about the participating teams.

These were not only confined to countries in the South-East Asian region but also included national teams from South Korea, Japan, Iraq and Kuwait. I recall that in the late 1960s, a team representing Western Australia was also invited. Most Malaysian football fans, particularly those who lived outside Kuala Lumpur, followed the matches live over Radio Malaysia. It was only in the late 1960s that Malaysians were able to watch selected matches aired by Televisyen Malaysia.

It was regarded as the premier football event in Asia. In the 1970s, countries such as South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia, inspired by the Malaysian example, also introduced their own international soccer tournaments. However, in terms of team participation and glamour, our Merdeka Tournament was regarded by football pundits as the most competitive and the best in Asia.

Without doubt, it afforded the opportunity for our national footballers to showcase their skills against formidable opponents from the Asian region as well as promote the country’s image.

Tunku’s initiative in using the appeal and symbolism of football to promote national unity and instil pride among Malaysians is a testament to his foresight as a leader of a multiracial country.


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sports , football , unity


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