MALAYSIA has always had a bit of an inferiority complex when it came to our performance in sports. We’re just not good at it on an international level yet we think we should be. So when our athletes don’t perform, we harp on and on about it when we should already have been expecting lacklustre results.
Take for example our national football team. They are so popular among Malaysians and everyone supports and praises them. Yet, they have never made any significant achievement in the international arena and consistently underperform.
Sure, there are a few sports that Malaysians are dominating. Badminton is one. We’ve been a major player internationally for a long time. However, badminton is a sport that has been dominated by only the same handful of countries for a long time. Pretty boring.
Although we may have to learn to accept that we’re just not good at sports, I would like to bring to attention a group of Malaysian athletes who have actually been representing the country at the highest level and winning.
Malaysian national paralympians have been consistently dominating athletics on the international stage. They break and hold world records and if you study their performance, you would think they are superhumans. In fact, they are.
On Sunday, national paralympian sprinter Mohamad Ridzuan Puzi won the silver medal for the 100m T36 (cerebral palsy) dash at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships in London. Mind you, Ridzuan won the gold medal and broke the world record at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
Before that, Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli the gold medal for the men’s shot put F20 (intellectual disability) and broke the world record. He had also won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympics and set a world record then too.
Abdul Latif Romly won a gold medal as well for the men’s long jump T20 (intellectual disability) and set a new championship record. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, he won gold too and his amazing performance saw him breaking the world record twice in his jumps.
Malaysians celebrated them right after the Paralympics but only for a short while. They were household names for about a week or so. Now, although they are still competing at their best and still winning, they have been forgotten.
Historically, paralympians have been disadvantaged compared with their able-bodied counterparts who are given the best facilities and resources, offered huge endorsement deals and, of course, more public attention. In fact, para athletes were long paid lower salaries by the sports authorities.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with these athletes along with their head coach Jeganathan Ramasamy and he did highlight to me that the current Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has taken steps to improve their condition.
For one, they are now being paid equal to the able-bodied national athletes. They are also now being housed in better facilities and given access to the best the country can offer in terms of training and sports medicine.
However, talking to the athletes, they don’t even seem bothered about the immense challenges and tribulations that they face. All they know is that they have found an area that they can contribute towards the country and society. They feel proud for what they have achieved.
Coach Jega says that the whole squad, including all the coaches, have participated in many events over the past fifteen years with little attention. Now that their hardwork is paying off with results on the international stage, he hopes that Malaysians will realise that we do have world class athletes.
I share Coach Jega’s sentiment: hoping that Malaysia remembers these atheletes. I hope the government also continues their support and not only invest in them when they get the limelight. Our paralympians have done Malaysia proud and continue to do so.
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