FIFA World Cup – Dare us dream for 2018
By SP Nathan

In a matter of hours, the 19th edition of the FIFA World Cup would unfold in South Africa. While millions of supporters of participating teams will be hollering for their home teams, we in Malaysia will, once again, be in a pickle, as Malaysia’s participation in this tournament will be restricted to only as officials and sadly, not as players.

It is times like this that brings back to mind the conversation I had with a Korean CEO of a medium sized company back in 2000. The after-dinner conversation moved on to games in general, and football specifically. This mild mannered man enquired about our football greats; Mokhtar, Chin Aun, Chun Wah, Santokh, Arumugam and a few others. He reminisced about football during the 70s and 80s and the euphoria that the Annual Merdeka tournament brought to fans of football all across Asia. The Merdeka tournament then was one of the premier sporting events in Asia.

Then, in all seriousness he delivered the “killer blow”; a question, I was hoping he would never ask. He said that 20 years ago the Malaysian football standard was at par with Korea and also Japan. And he continued that in 2 years (2002), we (Korea) will be co-hosting the World Cup, so what happened to Malaysia? I was in a pickle and a loss for an appropriate rebuttal.

Yes, like my Korean friend, that is the question millions of Malaysians have been asking. What happened to Malaysian football? Why are we not in South Africa?

The huge billboards all across the Klang valley we see now only vindicates one fact; post these stars of the 1970s and 1980s, there are no stars worth recognizing. That is exactly where the clock stopped as far as football is concerned.

This leads to the probing question – Why are we in this dilemma? Are we such that we are not capable of performing in the international football arena? Or should we be placated that being appointed mere officials should suffice as participation in this prestigious tournament?

And so it is crystal clear that if we want the above scenario to change, we need to do some introspection and effect some changes.

For starters, let good sense prevail in the current officials helming the National Football Association (FAM) that they had tried their best and their best is not what we, the citizens, are looking for and therefore make way for new blood.

Let there be more football fields. Let the football fields replace the National Service Camps where all Malaysians can mingle from a young age and not wait till they are 18 years old. We need sufficient fields for the young to play and harness their skills. And the fields can also be the melting pot to creating the true Malaysia spirit, like in the 1960s and 70s.

Let us churn out more sports teachers inclined to football who are skilled, motivated and committed to train our young no matter who they are.

Let the school curriculum be revised to have a balance between sports and academic achievement. Today’s mad rush for academic achievement through extra tuition as school teaching standards are deemed poor leaves no time for sports.

Let us have sports policies that emphasise on merit instead of other considerations. Never mind if the entire 1st team is made of Ibans, they are still Malaysians. And we will support them. Because we are One Malaysia.

Let us all pray that change will descend upon Malaysian football and that 8 years from now, in the 2018 World Cup Finals, when we turn on our TV sets, we will all be proudly cheering our own Malaysian team when they take the field. Let us all hope this will be a reality and not a pipe dream. I, for one, believe it is possible if we truly aspire for it.