PETALING JAYA: As Malaysia celebrates its 55th Independence Day today, three top Malaysian sports officials – Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, Datuk Wira Mazlan Ahmad and Datuk Peter Velappan – take a walk down memory lane.
And as they look back at the countless memories, the trio also speak of the changes that has taken place in the country’s sporting landscape – the ones that have brought both joy and despair.
Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary Kok Chi was only 19 when he stood at the Merdeka Stadium to watch Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra declare the country’s freedom from the clutches of the British rule.
“I was in Upper Six at the VI (Victoria Institution). Then, the Merdeka Stadium was the only sports stadium (for public use) in the country. I still remember how majestic the stadium was,” said the 74-year-old Kok Chi.
“There was no other sports complex except for one or two private ones. Now, every city and state has a sports complex. We have progressed from zero to hundreds in line with our socio-economic progress.
“However, not all this complexes are fully utilised or well maintained.
“In the 1950s and 1960s, government involvement was marginal. Now, all sports receive good support. A lot of money is spent on improving the sports culture and system here – millions – mind you.
“But the question remains, does spending more money translate into good results?
“How much money is sufficient to develop sports? I guess the question we have to ask ourselves after 55 years is how effectively are we using the money,” added Kok Chi, who has seen many officials falling victim to corrupt practices, power and greed over the years.
Former National Sports Council (NSC) director general Mazlan, who was running around Jasin in Malacca as a six-year-old when the late Tunku repeated the words “Merdeka” seven times, said that sports has transformed rapidly over the years.
“In those days it was about amateurism and volunteerism. Now, it is all about professionalism and commercialism,” said the 63-year-old, currently the brain behind the running of the country’s Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS).
“I remember those days when voluntary jobs were done with passion and pride. Now, this noble spirit has diminished. The biggest challenge now is to find people who are willing to give their life and soul to sports.
“Through sports development, we have gained some but we have also lost some. The current generation is enjoying a better life as far as sports is concerned – excellent facilities and perks – but most of them have lost the essence of the game – fair play, honesty and integrity.
“We have created more obese children than fit ones. That is the downside.
“Ironically, our current generation of athletes finds it quite impossible to better some of our past great sporting results. Our football team qualified for the Olympic Games twice while in athletics, no one has come close to the sprint times clocked by our Tan Sri Datuk Dr M. Jegathesan.
“We have declined in sports that we used to excel in but it is good to note that we have improved in others. Nicol David (in squash) and Pandelela Rinong (diving) have made us proud.”
The 77-year-old Peter, who was an influential man in the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the most part of his life, said that there was nothing like home sweet home – Malaysia.
“My work had taken me to 187 countries but I will proudly say today that Malaysia is the best – apart from its politics. God has blessed this country with human and natural resources,” said Peter, who was undergoing his teacher’s training at the Brinsford Teachers’ College in England when the historic event unfolded in Kuala Lumpur more than five decades ago.
“Take those days in sports for instance. We had our football, hockey and athletics in the Olympic Games – and not as mere passengers, mind you.
“The 1972 Munich Olympic football team was represented by the three main races of Malaysia. That team truly embraced the 1Malaysia concept – looking beyond race, culture, religion and language.
“The secret of our sporting success then was the blending of all three cultures into one. Each race complemented the other. This was the unique aspect that I sadly find missing these days.”
But the spirit of oneness, however, is not totally lost.
Just two weeks ago, people from all walks of life showed how proud they were of the nation as they came together to support world badminton No. 2 Lee Chong Wei and diver Pandelela Rinong when the duo returned from the London Olympics with the silver and bronze medals respectively.
Happy Merdeka, Malaysia!