A winning goal in the dying moments of extra time to clinch a 3-2 win over Indonesia in the 2022 World Cup football qualifying round in Asia…. though marred by violence from some elements in the crowd, the game brought back memories of the the multi-ethnic Malaysian teams of the 1970s at a time when the nation was an Asian football powerhouse.
I thought Zaid Ibrahim summed up the Malaysian team’s latest achievement best in Malaysiakini:
Lauding the Malaysians for their sterling performance, former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim said the team had also scored three goals against hate speech, racial profiling and xenophobia.
Zaid noted how Gambian-born striker Mohamadou Sumareh, who became a Malaysian citizen in April 2018, scored two goals, including the winning goal during the added time in the 3-2 thriller.
Zaid said Africans in Malaysia are often subjected to discrimination and recalled a scathing editorial in Sinar Harian which questioned their contribution to Malaysia.
Citing their involvement in criminal activities, the editorial in July had referred to them using the Malay derogatory term “Awang Hitam” and urged the government to teach them a lesson.
Zaid said those who have been fanning racial and religious sentiments must not forget that the coach for the national team is a Chinese Malaysian, Tan Cheng Hoe, who is not a Muslim.
The national team, he added, also comprised Australian-born Brendan Gan and La’Vere Lawrence Corbin-Ong, both of whom have a Malaysian parent.
“So this shows how disingenuous it is to form a generalised opinion about a particular race or religion because of the actions of one or a handful of people.
“There is good and bad in all things and people…
Some of most memorable moments in Malaysian team sports in recent decades have come with teams and coaches with a distinctly multi-ethnic flavour.
Recall the multi-ethnic Malaysian team qualifying for the 1980 Olympic football tournament – a triumph that inspired the box office hit Ola Bola. Look how they overcame South Korea:
I was there at the Penang City Stadium in 1974 to witness the rapturous scenes when a multi-ethnic Penang side captained by Namat Abdullah trounced Singapore 4-1 in the first leg of the Malaysia Cup semi-finals before winning the second leg 3-2 away. Penang would go on to clinch the Malaysia Cup that year.
Remember the 1992 Thomas Cup badminton winning team? A triumph of multi-ethnic collaboration.
And who can forget the 1975 World Cup hockey Malaysian victory over defending champions Netherlands. Brilliantly multi-ethnic, the team captured the imagination of the nation. I skipped class to watch the Malaysia-India semi-final (which Malaysia narrowly lost). Watch the video from 22:30.
Multi-ethnic sports teams provide a fleeting glimpse of what is possible when we celebrate our diversity and showcase our inclusivity, infused with strong team spirit and backed by an entire nation. Even if they are mono-ethnic, it doesn’t matter – if everyone is given a fair opportunity from the grassroots level to rise to the national team and only the best are selected. The key is fair opportunities and encouragement for all to give it a shot.
And even if the euphoria is just fleeting – before we sink again to racial and religious politicking – it shows us what is possible if we put aside our differences, come together and build on one another’s potential and talent. Let us cast away hate speech, racial profiling and xenophobia (hatred of foreigners) and accept one another as a family.
Hopefully, one day soon, we will see Malaysians and others in this country overcoming their differences and working hand-in-hand to build a more just and inclusive nation.