Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's a small cup after all

THE Prime Minister declared a public holiday. Just because the national football team won the AFF Suzuki Cup, involving Asean nations.

The Youth and Sports Minister said financial incentives would be given to the members of the team.

The MIC president asked for a datukship to be given to K Rajagopal, the coach.

The mainstream media went to town with its coverage of Malaysia’s victory over Indonesia in the final, with newspapers devoting pages to the news, including their front page, hailing the players as “heroes”.

Muzium Negara is going to hold an exhibition showcasing the team’s success in winning the Cup.

Please! We are going overboard!

Our football team did well and deserves to be congratulated. We should commend everyone who played a part in its victory and tell them they did a good job, and wish them future successes.

They should be praised for their courage in the second leg of the final for facing a hostile Indonesian crowd in Jakarta and losing by only 1-2.

And then we should move on.

What is the real agenda in declaring a public holiday? We didn’t win the World Cup; we merely won a tournament featuring the nations of ASEAN, a small regional grouping in the context of the big world out there.

Only eight teams participated in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 – the highest-ranked among them according to FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) was Thailand, at the 121st spot. Another participant, Laos, was the lowest among them, at number 167, out of 203 footballing nations.

Malaysia itself is ranked number 144.

So what’s the big deal in winning the Cup to warrant the declaration of a public holiday? If Malaysia had won the Asian Cup, that might have been something more to crow about. Although that still would not warrant a public holiday.

We sound like a desperate footballing nation clutching on to a small trophy and declaring it a blue ribbon. To outsiders looking in, we must appear a laughing stock.

Declaring a public holiday for a low-level achievement is sending out the wrong message and inculcating the wrong values.

It’s saying we don’t have to bother about standards, so we can celebrate mediocrity. The values cultivated from this are obviously negative: we don’t have to do really well in order to be rewarded handsomely. Hasn’t this been our national malady in the last few decades?

It’s also important to consider that one swallow does not make a summer. Our team’s victory this time in a competition involving Asia’s football minnows is not an automatic sign that bigger achievements are in the offing. As it is, we didn’t even qualify for the Asian Cup 2011.

By all means, we should give due encouragement to the team and build on their Suzuki Cup success, but big-scale celebrations are certainly premature. The rewards for now should be modest and proportionate to the achievement.

Giving a datukship to the coach would cheapen the value of such titles, if they are not already questionable in some cases. Let Rajagopal take Malaysia to the second round of the World Cup finals, then talk about giving him a title. That would be some achievement; although even to qualify for it is, at this point, unimaginable.

So why do we want to swell the heads of our footballers? Hasn’t it been the Malaysian hubris to laud sportspeople as heroes before their time has come? And then when they perform the next time on a bigger stage and falter, would it really be their fault if they failed to live up to our expectations?

So, instead of giving substantial financial incentives to the players, why not use the money to provide better training facilities?

Was Prime Minister Najib Razak acting responsibly in declaring a public holiday? Football is big in Malaysia, and especially among the youths, and he knows that. From the way it looked, he exploited the victory to score points and raise his popularity ratings, which could translate into votes for his party at the next general election.

But this time around, he took a cheap shot. And came out looking like an opportunist. Whichever Blue Ocean strategy he employed, it isn’t one that comes with moral considerations.

Leadership means imparting what’s right, not attempting to be populist. In fact, politics in this country has become so dirty that our leadership has lost sight of what it means to impart the right values. The most obvious example of dirty play is BN’s takeover of Perak from Pakatan Rakyat.

If that’s leadership by example, it’s no wonder that the people have also been influenced to play dirty. That’s what was manifested during the first leg of the Suzuki Cup final played in Kuala Lumpur – when Malaysian football fans flashed laser lights on the faces of the Indonesian players to distract them from playing properly. That was, to say the least, a despicable act. From whom did our football fans learn to play so dirty?

Addressing this moral issue is more important than winning tournaments. And it is this that Malaysian leaders should be doing rather than placing priority on the winning. They should be asking whether the Malaysian value system has deteriorated – and if so, why. They should be asking how it can be salvaged, and improved. And whether we have become so corrupt that we don’t know what’s right and wrong any more.

Coincidentally, as the Cup final was going on, news broke of a WikiLeaks disclosure about a government cover-up of a rape committed by a senior Malaysian Cabinet minister on his Indonesian maid three years ago. Could all this football hype be intended to distract Malaysians from that issue?

Conspiracy theorists believe it could be. If they are right, it would confirm how morally low we have sunk. Even worse if the rape report is true.

When just last week, former Israeli president Moshe Katsav was convicted on two counts of rape, sensible Malaysians would have taken heart and wondered if such a vindication of justice could ever happen in Malaysia, especially involving a former head of state. Going by the current priorities of our government, the jury is still out.

[Source: Kee Thuan Chye/Malaysian Digest]

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