It already feels like a tough year, doesn’t it?
We’re being pushed to the edge on a daily basis by the crumbling economic conditions. Politically, things don’t look too bright as well – precisely why optimism isn’t exactly overflowing within Malaysia.
Just a couple of days ago, I was in a restaurant and I overheard a conversation between two individuals. They were mainly exchanging opinions with regards to Chong Wei’s early exit from the All England Badminton Championships. “Chong Wei off-form, forget about Rio Olympics lah,” one of them uttered.
As these exchanges took place, I was getting increasingly tempted to jump in and cut them off but instead, I took some time out to rationalize as to why they were saying these things. We’ve always been a nation that has struggled for optimism. We continue to engage in this subconscious battle with mediocrity and that hurts our ability to set bigger aspirations and believe in our abilities to accomplish it.
Skepticism is prevalent and it’s understandable as well. Sporting systems in Malaysia aren’t entirely trustworthy – it continues to be politicised by nepotistic individuals, corruption is still widespread and sheer failures in terms of organizational management and planning dominate headlines regularly. This personal block is something we apply to every individual out there. Culturally, we’re skeptical about anything that goes outside a box. We keep it safe, we set our expectations low. We’re mentally shaped to always see Malaysia as home, but one that belongs to the third world, where international accolades are something you hope for and dream about, instead of expect.
But folks, that needs to change this year. While we’re asleep every night, pondering about work next day, we’ve got a team of athletes working their socks off, gunning forward with hopes of making every single one of us proud in a few months from now. And these are men and women who have sacrificed almost everything to even get to this point.
Chong Wei will not be the only Malaysian in Rio, this year. Five divers have booked their Rio slots, including Pandelela Rinong, who made history by becoming the first Malaysian female athlete to win an Olympic medal four years ago. She is being tipped by many to repeat, if not better her feat, this year.
Track cyclist Azizulhasni Awang – who is ranked No. 1 in the world for the Keirin event, is also a frontrunner for gold. Fatehah Mustapa is the other track cyclists that will be competing in the sprint event, this summer. 24 year-old Khairul Anuar will be representing us in Archery, while Johnathan Wong has qualified for both the 10m air pistol as well as the 50m pistol events. There are plenty of other individuals who are looking to secure a Rio slot, as you read this.
Point is, these are athletes who’ve had to sacrifice a lot to get to where they are. If you think our sporting systems are inadequate, then imagine what it takes for any athlete to battle through such systems and prevail at the end of it. Azizulhasni has been away from the comfort of home in Malaysia for years now, training and pushing himself to become a better track cyclists in Melbourne. Pandelela has probably spent more time on airport floors than she has on her own bed, over the past few months, as she travelled to compete all around the globe in order to secure the coveted Rio slot.
But they’re all humans too. Humans with emotions. Just like us, they experience pain, frustration and agony. More importantly, every shortcomings we’ve had to face as Malaysians, hits them, if not their closed ones, equally hard. If dealing with that isn’t difficult enough, imagine having to juggle these things with training sessions that leave you breathless every single day, while your muscles hurt all over the place. Take a minute to digest that, and then think of the times we’ve brushed these individuals off.
So Malaysians, it’s time for us to put our skepticism aside and rally behind these men and women. We’re 4 months away from the Olympics and between now and then, these individuals will go through hell. There’ll be days when they feel like giving up, there’ll be moments when they start to doubt themselves.
And in those moments, your public encouragements will serve as a timely reminder of what they represent and mean to each and every one of us. These reminders will be lingering in their ears when they touch down in Rio. And for all you know, it could end up being the difference between being history and making history. A history that they’re more than capable of making. A height that they’re more than capable of scaling.
But what happens if they don’t make it in Rio?
By then, we’ll be stronger as a country. This is a unique opportunity for us to put all political and ideological differences aside, and unite behind a group of individuals who are looking to make us proud where it matters the most. This is the perfect chance for us for us to salvage our pride on the international arena.
Irrespective of what happens in Rio, this is a momentum we could really use, to help us unite and fight the seemingly impenetrable waves of national divide. And isn’t that what sports is about, at the end of the day?
Azizulhasni, Pandelela, Lee Chong Wei and many more have answered the call. Question is, will you?
Let’s stand behind #TeamMalaysia!