Wake up Malaysia, and smell the smouldering embers of our failures … starting with the virtual debacle of our Hangzhou Asian Games stint.
Yes, the athletes outdistanced the 27-medal target, perceived only as a self-protective prognosis by the National Sports Council and the Olympic Council of Malaysia, and an insipid projection by anyone’s standards of excellence.
In the absence of a gold-medal target, the resolve to run faster and reach higher, wasn’t there to drive our athletes to better the Palembang-Jakarta Asiad tally. With the contingent returning with one gold less than 2018, one can assume that the gold vein has got hazier, like our unhealthy Air Pollution Index.
Nevertheless, take your respective bows, gold medallists, especially the men and women of squash who gave us three gold and a silver. Sailing, equestrian, and karate completed the six-gold medal-haul.
Take a bow, too, the rest of you medallists, especially the debutants and the debutantes. For, while the Sea Games has become a circus kept alive only by its ringmasters, winning a medal in the highly-competitive Asiad, is certainly no mean feat at all.
But there has to be progress with gold medals coming in double digits, as should the silver. Technically, progress would mean turning the bronze to silver, and the silver to gold at Aichi-Nagoya, Japan, four years from now.
The self-protective sports administrators and apologists will, however, tell you to be realistic, that a pint glass can only hold a pint, and nothing more. We sportswriters have been listening to this ruse for decades now, and the pint glasses have remained the same.
It’s a ruse because these mediocre sports administrators have been comfortable with the pints, as it meets with their own mediocrity. Expanding the pint into quart glasses, requires diligence which they are incapable of, and intellect which they do not have very much of.
So now, this begs the question: Why then do we need state of the art facilities, foreign coaches, sports academies, a relatively big sports budget and hefty reward schemes, when administrators are happy with mediocre results? Where is the ROI (return on investment)?
This country will not make its mark internationally in any field, whether it is in education, health or sports, simply because we have been, and are still, long sufferers of a condition akin primarily to a certain group of Malaysians.
It is called “Malayanitis”, a condition where the virus progressively attacks the cerebrum, making the victim incapable of intellectual discourse, astute planning, and generally incapacitates judicious reasoning. Needless to say, the first victim was common sense.
And in the absence of an effective remedy, this condition has reached epidemic levels, attacking virtually every fibre of Malaysian life. The symptoms, however, still seem to be more prevalent among our policymakers.
Their discriminatory policies targeted to secure vote banks, have made it virtually impossible for Malaysians unaccustomed to competing on level playing fields, to excel in highly competitive international arenas.
Its devastating effects are conspicuously manifested in sports, where colour or creed matter not in a competitive arena that advocates equal opportunities for every athlete in his or her pursuit for excellence. Nobody gets a head start.
In this context, to be brutally honest, Malaysia is no longer a thriving breeding ground for world class athletes. Not when the inequitable policies over the decades have all but killed that competitive spirit that was prevalent in the early years.
For, how can you push this large group of athletes beyond their pain barrier, when for all their lives they have been molly-coddled, spoon-fed, and did not need to compete on level playing fields.
FA of Malaysia president Hamidin Amin was quick to identify this malaise, and saw the inevitability of naturalising foreign professionals to pull on the Malaysian jersey.
There are merits, and admittedly more demerits to this strategy, but sometimes Machiavellian methods are mandatory in desperate situations. Malaysian football’s quick-fix remedy will come up for evaluation when the Asian Cup finals begin in January next year.
But there is a more patriotic way to circumvent this condition, given that discriminatory policies, frail mindsets, and those “chin chai” (Hokkien for “anything goes”) and “tidak apa” (“never mind” in Malay) attitudes are going to remain being a fundamental part of the average Malaysian.
We should uproot our saplings (medal hopes) from our poorly nurtured and comparatively infertile Malaysian soil, and transplant them in the rich and thriving nurseries of world beaters.
Squash queen Nicol Ann David is living testimony of this philosophy. Had Nicol not been taken out of her nasi-kandar famed Penang and thrust into the highly-competitive Dutch league in the Heineken-famed Holland, she would not have been eight-time world champion.
More recently, emerging from the Hangzhou Asian Games, were squash’s gold medal sensations, S Sivasangari and Ng Eain Yow, track and field stars Shereen Samson Vallabouy (400m bronze), and Muhammad Azeem Fahmi (100m bronze) who are all based overseas – in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Given their competitive spirit, I am quite certain they will push their respective pain barriers even further, for so long as they are based overseas.
There is another way, but it will require the will of the government, better still that of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
There could be a directive to the foreign ministry in collaboration with the youth and sports ministry for our embassies throughout the world to “adopt” our young talents by placing them in schools and sports clubs, for a competitive and professional upbringing.
I am not a gambling man, but I can bet the administrative and working ranks of the NSC, or even the foreign ministry, will provide a thousand reasons why it would not work, but not bother to come up with one that can.
At this juncture, an old Malay proverb comes to mind that exhibits one of the symptoms of Malayanitis; hendak seribu daya, tak hendak, seribu dalih. It simply means if you want something, you will go all out for it, but if you don’t, you will come up with a thousand excuses.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.