2018 and its mixed bag

On top of the world: Malaysia’s Rafiq Ismail (centre), Adrian Ang (right) and Tun Hakim Tun Hasnul Azam posing with their gold medals won at the men’s World Bowling Championship in Hong Kong. Inset: Goh Jin Wei won a second world junior title in badminton.

EVERYONE I know keeps saying that 2018 just flew by – and I couldn’t agree more.

As the year comes to a close, the first significant thing that comes to mind is the GE14 that saw a change in the Malaysian government.

But many things unfolded in the world of sports too – with the focus being on some of the major events like the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and of course, the mother of all sporting extravaganzas – the World Cup in Russia.

It was indeed a busy year for sports – and my colleagues will attest to it.

Looking back at the drama, there were the highs and lows that made me smile and frown.

Some lows even made me sad and there were occasions when I just wanted to pull my hair out – no thanks to the bloopers and blunders of some of our sports officials. Here are some of the highlights:

¦ On fans

Aidan Joseph Paul, 15, sent his school project to the StarSport’s email and was hoping for it to be published. Together with his classmate Miguel Mak, they had written a lengthy piece on ‘Are we the fans, the problem of Harimau Malaya?’ He pointed out that Malaysian fans are like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – they heap praises on the team when they win but criticise them when they lose. We didn’t publish their report (it’s long!) – but it was a good reminder as we do tend to get overboard (me included!). It’s okay to criticise but there should be a limit. It was awesome to see how the Malaysian fans came together to support Harimau Malaya during the recent AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals and final at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil this month – but it should not stop there. Aidan and Miquel aim to stick by their team no matter what – let’s follow suit.

¦ On change in leadership

I’ve seen many Youth and Sports Ministers come and go over the last 21 years but Khairy Jamaluddin somehow stood out in some way. His charisma and turun padang (going to the ground) mentality oustshone that of his predecessors. I believe he could have done more for sports if he had stayed on as the minister. We also said our goodbyes to Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) president Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar and OCM secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, the long-serving officials who made significant contributions for more than three decades. There are new leaders now – but let’s hope they will always put the interests of athletes first.

Goh Jin Wei won a second world junior title in badminton.

¦ On health issues

The news of men’s singles shuttler Lee Chong Wei being diagnosed with nose cancer was hard to accept. After winning the Malaysian Open so convincingly by beating Kento Momota of Japan in July, hopes were on Chong Wei to end his wait for a title at the World Championships and bid farewell to the Asian Games with a gold but it was not to be. Momota won the world title and Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie took the Asiad glory. I understood Chong Wei’s ordeal, pain and struggles as one of my family members had gone through the same hardships and so did a mentor of mine. All three of them are better now (yay!). In them, I saw courage, determination and the will to fight. With the right attitude, like them, we can face adversities and be an overcomer. So, to all those athletes struggling with injuries, lack of form and self-doubt – don’t give up!

¦ On bloopers

I can’t seem to forget how the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) named independent shuttler Mohd Arif Abdul Latif for the Thomas Cup Finals just two weeks after he joined the national team in May. They split their reliable No. 2 pair Teo Ee Yi-Ong Yew Sin and left the poor Yew Sin at home. It was a decision that I never understood. It backfired as our weakened doubles department could not deliver and Malaysia failed to make it to the semi-finals. I do hope our coaches and sports officials will be wiser when making decisions on player selection – no matter what sport they are involved in. It’s time to evaluate our approaches and choose athletes on merit.

¦ On champions

December is a special month for bowling. Rafiq Ismail (singles) and Adrian Ang-Tun Hakim Tun Hasnul Azam (doubles) won gold medals at the World Championships in Hong Kong. Bowling chief coach Holloway Cheah too deserves the credit – not only did he lead the team to the double success at the world meet but he has groomed a successor in Ben Heng too – that’s a hallmark of a world champion coach! Lilian Tan, Mohd Syarul Azman Mahen Abdullah and Buda Anchah also powered their way to golds at the World Bodybuilding and Physical Fitness Cham­pionships in Thailand. One should not forget women’s singles shuttler Goh Jin Wei for winning her second world junior title. Cheers too to cyclist Azizulhasni Awang and rider Hafizh Syahrin Abdullah who made a creditable debut in MotoGP. Don’t forget the outstanding showing by our para athletes. And for those who are trying to break barriers – keep it up.

The writer wishes all readers Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – and here’s hoping it will be a better year for Malaysian sports in 2019.

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