Commentary Sports

Next year’s Asian Games would be a better gauge

The rugby 7s team -- gold home but torn to shreds in the Asian Series in Hong Kong despite sending what was reportedly a stronger team.

The rugby 7s team -- gold home but torn to shreds in the Asian Series in Hong Kong despite sending what was reportedly a stronger team.

Written by Aziz Hassan

September 5, 2017.

Recollections & Reflections – A weekly column

Or alternatively, the next Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast next April

WAY back in 1978 while covering the Asian Rugby tournament at the Merdeka Stadium, a local player approached to have a chat.

He related a talk by a psychologist to the national team that said press reports did play a part in affecting what a team thought of itself.

Since my job descriptions never said anything about having to also help a team feel better, I only listened.

I am first and foremost a journalist and it as a journalist that I look at issues I write on, just like what follows.

For more than a week recently, Malaysians had a lot to cheer on and there was no mistaking the national fervour.

A total of 145 gold medals from a target of 111, overall champions for only the second time in the history of the SEA Games since the first in 1959. Twenty-nine editions in all but it should have been 30 if not for Cambodia’s late withdrawal as host in 1963. Six times as host but only twice as champions..

Note that unlike the big three of Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, Malaysia has never been overall champion away. Our average position in the table while competing away was fourth; the best twice a few times.

The recent gold medal tally in percentage terms was the highest at almost 36, compared to the 2001 home success of just over 28 per cent.

The problem with being so excited with what was on show recently, including the opening and closing ceremonies, is that it tends to lull people into complacency and give them a blinkered view of reality.

While national fervour is for the people to savour, the reality check should always be in the minds of officials and athletes.

The SEA Games is a C game, below the B Asian and Commonwealth Games and the A Olympic Games. It is the lowest of multi-sport international games for us, let’s not forget that.

We did win many medals in Olympic sports like diving, cycling and archery but the officials and politicians riding on the wave of the successes of KL2017 must never ignore the fact that we are still a long, long way from being a global threat in almost all the sports contested. Many of the sports have not progressed significantly despite the many opportunities for their athletes to compete internationally. Badminton is in a limbo, so too squash. Swimming remains very much a minor sport that doesn’t create waves. But it’s there to be competed in.

And many too are the sports that do not organise regular domestic competitions. Hardly unheard too is a development programme.

There is also of course the oft heard argument about the inclusion of sports that tend to favour the host. Before our neighbours and other Asean nations give an approving nod, let them be reminded that this is an issue that is repeated in most host countries. Controversial judging in subjective and contact sports is another that is heard every two years so if KL was unfair, so too have been the others.

As the Seap Games, everything was rather simple. Everyone expected Thailand to win most of the time and they did. The others didn’t have the capacity to provide decent competition and were contented with filling in the gaps.

But in 1977 the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia entered the fray and from the 80s, the landscape changed. It was from this period that all kinds of ridiculous native or traditional sports were included and excluded by most hosts, with a view to outdoing the rest in the medal table. The circus made the regional circuit on a regular basis.

The next step up for Malaysia should be next Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang in a year’s time.

If the KL Games gave out 404 gold medals, next year’s Asiad will offer 431. The total number of sports are almost the same but if the SEA Games is participated by 11 countries, the Asian Games will have 45 countries.

This simply means the competition will be much tougher, the standards higher.

In KL, for example, not a single Asian Games record was broken, which is proof of the gap between the two.

We won the rugby 7s gold in KL for the first time but last weekend in Hong Kong our boys were hammered in every match at the first leg of the Asian 7s Series.

So enjoy and celebrate as much as you wish but a true athlete strives for the highest reward there is in his or her sport. That’s the hallmark of a true champion and a proud competitor.

And combining the closing ceremony with the Merdeka eve celebrations didn’t look like such a brilliant idea. Place yourself in the position of the foreign athlete or official and how would you feel?

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About the author

Aziz Hassan

A journalist since July 1976 with both the English and Malaya press and was with two newspaper groups before The Mole. Does corporate report-writing and translation in his free time. Currently also a contributing weekly rugby columnist for the New Straits Times.