Friday August 10, 2012
Shuttling towards victory
ROAMING BEYOND THE FENCE
By TUNKU 'ABIDIN MUHRIZ
Some time ago Olympic Council of Malaysia president Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar said: ‘I have never believed in racism in sports. If there is one activity that should be totally based on merit, irrespective of race and religion, it is sport’, recapitulating what our first Prime Minister also believed.
AND so the badminton gold medal eluded Datuk Lee Chong Wei, and much has already been written on the subject: the nail-biting closeness of the match, the immense power of competitive sport to unite millions, the inspiring display of passionate determination built upon talent and hard work, the tear-jerking apology from the former world number one, the immediate pledge to try again in 2016, and the jingle London Bridge is for Lin Dan.
Our “Pocket Rocket Man” Azizulhasni Awang, after an impressive sixth placing in the keirin, has also pledged to do better in Rio.
As I write, there are still events in which Malaysians are yet to compete, so our solitary silver may yet have company before the closing ceremony on Sunday.
Still, attention has turned to why we have not won more medals.
The sports of the Olympics have sometimes been accused of being culturally biased in favour of the West (where is sepak takraw?), while some discriminate on account of geography (the mountainous landlocked Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is unlikely to have many sailing facilities) and cost (as any budding equestrian will verify).
Yet, these arguments lose weight when we realise that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – that communist totalitarian state with four million fewer people than Malaysia – currently has four gold medals.
Are they physically superior? Or is there something to be said about the state forcing young children into training and threatening them with labour camps if they fail to win medals?
Thankfully, democratic South Korea, with twice the population, has won five times as many medals, 12 of them gold.
Several websites have formulated different methods to calculate “medals per capita”, and all agree that New Zealand, Jamaica and Slovenia are amongst the most efficient in producing medals per head – although Grenada (population 110,000) just got its first gold medal, so statistically it wins.
These provide much food for thought about the emphasis we place on sports and competition in our own country.
Some time ago, Olympic Council of Malaysia president Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar said: “I have never believed in racism in sports. If there is one activity that should be totally based on merit – irrespective of race and religion, it is sport”, recapitulating what our first Prime Minister also believed.
Tunku Imran has also constantly urged the private sector to invest in sports, and the current trend seems to be for companies to “adopt” a sport to create strong brand association.
The experience of the host country (currently third in the medals haul, surpassing its outing in Beijing in 2008) in developing young talents could provide lessons for us.
Many British medal winners started their training in their respective sports less than a decade ago.
The Brits reached the finals for the first time in sports they traditionally dwindled in, though being the host nation does help (we got our best ever Commonwealth Games haul when we hosted it).
Much of the funding for this training came from the National Lottery, and some political pundits are giving John Major the gold medal for having established this essentially voluntary tax via the British people’s desire to gamble.
Perhaps, we could devise a halal mechanism to enable the rakyat’s existing spending patterns to be channelled into sports.
More widely, the political cooperation in making the Games work has been commended.
Erstwhile political opponents Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Boris Johnson all supported the Olympics, and as many sceptics have been won over, the habitual derision of the political class has been temporarily suspended in the congratulations towards the policymakers who enabled this uplifting of the national spirit.
Meanwhile, not all of our politicians have exploited our Olympic experience with the same effectiveness.
Criticisms of Lee and claims that gold will only be achieved under a Pakatan Rakyat government have been met with outrage and incredulity.
One wonders, if candidate selection was democratic, whether these twitterers would survive re-selection given the public sentiment.
Other politicians have assessed the mood correctly, but few can claim to have forged more unity in their years of office than our national shuttler did in a few days.
At the same time, many traditional voices of division have gone eerily silent amid the Olympic fever.
Perhaps they dejectedly realise that their pronouncements of suspicion and mistrust will not resonate at this time. Or perhaps they too were watching Lee and Azizul and thought, hey, maybe we’re in this together.
> Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz is founding president of Ideas