pic by TMR FILE
AFTER more than two weeks of sports actions, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has finally drawn to a close. This edition, which was declared as “the most challenging”, was postponed for over a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
The Games — held every four years — also was held without fans in attendance due to the surge of Covid-19 cases worldwide.
Although the Tokyo Olympics drew mixed reactions, it was still regarded as an important event for Japan as the host nation, participating countries, corporate sponsors and the athletes. Depending on how one looks at it, the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics offered its own takeaways, paving the way for the future.
As for Malaysia, a minnow at the Olympics level, it set the target to win three medals in Tokyo and more importantly, to bring home the country’s first-ever gold medal. Unlike neighbours such as Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines, Malaysia has never won a gold medal at the Olympics. Hence, sports such as badminton, diving and track cycling were hoped to end the gold medal hoodoo.
Unfortunately, Malaysia ended its Olympics campaign with only a silver and a bronze, one short of the initial three medal target.
The hunt for the country’s first-ever gold medal also remained futile after 16 Olympics participation since 1956.
While the athletes’ efforts were admirable and they should not be faulted for lack of trying, huge spending on the preparation programmes such as the “We Are Champion” and “Podium” raises questions about efficiency, and whether these have provided a good return on investment.
It should also be noted that prior to the Tokyo Olympics, we also showed dismal showings in the previous multi-sports events including the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2019 Sea Games.
Good performances at the Olympics are important for both athletes and countries. Based on the state’s perspectives, the prestige of winning prestigious sports competitions can help transcend soft power and international standing.
In the past, sports also has shown to be successful in lifting the country out of a crisis. South Africa’s Rugby World Cup success in 1995 and Ivory Coast’s football team win in a 2006 World Cup qualifier against Sudan are examples of the important role of sports in bringing the country together. It is amazing to see how a sports icon like Didier Drogba can play a huge part in promoting peace in Ivory Coast.
In the case of Malaysia, good Olympics showing is important to provide the feel-good factor for the people. It should be understood that, besides the Covid-19 crisis, our country also experiences severe internal political turmoil.
Since last year, the ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition struggled with issues related to the loss of legitimacy and support, which eventually led to the recent resignation of the prime minister and his Cabinet ministers. These increase pressure on the country’s already ailing economy and contribute to more issues such as the rise of the unemployment rate, lack of income, poverty and inequalities.
As the media reported, many Malaysians struggle to make ends meet due to affected livelihood caused by the pandemic and other uncertainties. The recent increase in suicide cases also indicates serious mental illness issues in society.
Here, sports can play an important role to help ease people’s hardship. For instance, when Malaysia won the silver and bronze medals at the Tokyo Olympics, the whole nation was buzzing, as people expressed positive vibes and demonstrated their sense of pride and unity towards the nation. It is unimaginable to think the kind of celebration, should national hero, Datuk Mohd Azizulhasni Awang (picture) won a gold medal in his Keirin cycling event on the closing day of the Olympics.
Malaysia is not a sporting powerhouse, but its sports fans are passionate and loyal. Even in football, a sport that Malaysia continues to struggle with beyond the Asean region, support towards the national team remains high, which indicates a strong sense of pride and loyalty. Such highlights the need for Malaysia to strategically improve the quality of sports in the country to a higher level.
As it shows, even during tough times like now, sports proves to be an important platform to help unite people across the divide.
Dr Nurzali Ismail is the dean at the School of Communication, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.
The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.