July 11, 2017.
Recollections & Reflections – A weekly column
IT’S a joke alright and one which Malaysian sports fans, especially football enthusiasts, are all too familiar with.
Players sneaking out of camp to be seen partying at clubs until the wee hours of the morning, overpaid players trying their luck but not always succeeding at the slot machines which are available in abundance in open clubs operating round-the-clock in the Klang Valley and players deciding that they need to spend more time celebrating a festive season before joining centralised training.
This scene was repeated recently when only six of 26 players from the national Under-23 squad turned up for centralised training. Another 15 were going to be in camp in batches while no one was sure what to expect of the remaining five!
To make the situation more titillating, a day after reporting for training three of the six left due to club commitments, another was also allowed to go out but could not join his state team on time while the remaining two were said to be injured.
Coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee was quoted by the press as saying that he had no choice but to let the four go because there were only six players anyway in camp.
Can you imagine this farcical situation happening in the world’s leading footballing nations, with no sanctions against the players and officials responsible for the mess?
For us, it’s also the club versus country issue all over again.
This problem arises because players are contracted to their clubs or states and not the national association. Rugby in England has been facing the same problem but this does not seem to be the problem with their footballers.
Actually it is not such an insurmountable hurdle.
Even if the players are not centrally contracted, the national association can always include a clause that requires players to be released for the national teams. Tell me, which club or association is going to dispute this?
Once this is sorted out, it is left to the national association to ensure that domestic competitions do not in any way clash with the international calendar, which again should not be an issue because the dates for most international competitions are decided at least two years in advance.
In hockey, the national team has qualified for next year’s World Cup in India after finishing fourth in the recent World League in London.
But how some fans reacted to this by welcoming the team at the airport with a banner that called them warriors or heroes!
Warriors for players who only managed fourth place?
Anyway while the team’s qualification for next year’s World Cup is commendable, one must be reminded that Malaysia had qualified for the world’s premier event seven times before this.
That’s how it is though in Malaysia, where we celebrate and honour second best.
Athletes who fail to win an Olympics gold or a world title are still rewarded handsomely and yes, called heroes too, and athletes who compete in unequal situations are rewarded no less than those who have to strive much harder just to get into a final.
Our athletes keep on pledging to do their best when their best could mean no more than 80 per cent of what their opponents can produce. How often do you instead hear them saying “I/we want to win the tournament.”
That is what separates our second-class achievers and the world beaters.