An open letter to all Malaysians who slammed Farah Ann Abdul Hadi

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Hello folks,

I think it’s incredibly important to not blow things out of proportions here. I’m not writing this to openly slam anyone and disregard anyone’s belief. I, like most Malaysians out there, am decent enough to understand that we all have our own reservations about certain things, including religion.

We have principles and concepts that we adhere to on a daily basis, and that’s perfectly understandable. But what happened yesterday, was something I struggled to comprehend, for a plethora of reasons. Sexism, is probably the first.

Athletes have worn these costumes/attire for a very long time. Abdul Malik Mydin, a renowned Malaysian swimmer, who is best known for his feat of swimming across the English Channel back in 2003, accomplished his feat by wearing bare minimum clothes. Our national football team players wear shorts that doesn’t cover their knee, according to Islamic principles. Zulfadli Zulkifli, our national badminton player, wears shorts that doesn’t cover his knee as well.

I could go on listing down examples, but you get the drill. But for added flavour, check out Mokhtar Dahari’s image below. I don’t think it covers his knee either.

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Ironically though, I’ve never seen any negative comments being directed towards ‘Supermokh’. Instead, every coffee shop discussion on Malaysian football’s golden days, will not be complete without paying homage the man who is often touted as the greatest Malaysian footballer to have graced the field.

Not that Supermokh doesn’t deserve it, don’t get me wrong. He deserves every single plaudit that comes his way till today, after everything he did for Malaysia. But the double standard is something that sheds light on a deeply rooted sexism issue within the Malaysian society.

Farah Ann Abdul Hadi is no different to Mokhtar. I’m not comparing their success, but at the end of the day, they are both Malaysian athletes who went out there and made the nation proud. To a certain extent, some could even argue that it’s more difficult to achieve Farah’s success, considering she had to battle through sexism and societal expectations to be where she is today.

They wear these outfits, not for the fun of it. They do so, to allow them the opportunity to maximize their potential within the sport. It allows them to be as light as possible, to produce and manufacture the best time. It’s almost a pre-requisite to do well on the international stage.

Then comes the sport itself.

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I spoke to an individual who is within the gymnastic spectrum (wanted to remain anonymous) earlier today, and this individual had an interesting comment. “Truth be told, the severity of this incident would not be apparent if the sport involved was football or something that’s more appealing to the nation’s sporting culture. Gymnastics isn’t exactly regarded as a major sport in this country, so people don’t value the success of our talented athletes.”

While I have my own reservations on that particular comment, one can’t help but feel there may be some truth in it. Look at the discourse that has been taking place, ever since this issue exploded on social media. All attention has been focused on her outfit, instead of her sheer achievement. She didn’t edge through to win her gold medal. Farah Ann stunned the judges with her impeccable display en route to winning gold.

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But here’s the thing. The gold medal doesn’t mean a single thing without our support. The positive connotation that’s attached to every single success and medal out there, is derived from the support she receives from us. In clearer words, she banks on our support, every single time she heads out there on the battlefield. Every nerve-wrecking moment and butterflies in her tummy – they are all dealt with within her mind, by positive reinforcing the fact that she’s doing this for us and we’re there to back her up.

But having sacrificing hours to train and develop, before going out there to clinch a gold medal, she’s then criticized for an outfit that was merely used for her to clinch the win in the first place.

Then the ultimate question comes. Even if we disagree with her outfit, do we go out there and publicly shame her for it?

Any discussion about religious principles in sports can go on an endless path, but let’s stick to the point here, shall we. I respect your principles and disagreement, but I don’t think we need to make it public and impose our standards or expectations on other individuals. Farah Ann may not your match standards that you believe in, but standards or yardsticks are always tailored to your social and personal upbringing. It’s never the same, and can never be implemented uniformly across the board. It may be religious beliefs, but I think we Malaysians are capable of respecting boundaries and standards of other individuals. We have to be better than that.

Also, any form of public discussion doesn’t exactly help this athletes in the quest for more glory. The least we could do, in assisting their mission, is providing support and the platform within which they can thrive in and grow as sportsmen or sportswomen.

I understand that some of you may have said those things in the heat of the moment. I will respect your right to have opinions, but when it borders bigotry and misogyny, respect is the last thing you’ll get from anyone.

For what it’s worth, I hope we can move past this incident, and continue giving the support that our athletes deserve on a daily basis. You go, Farah! Keep making the nation proud!

Yours truly,

A fellow Malaysian