‘Sports a well-tested, proven method of unifying Malaysia’

Every so often, usually closer to Merdeka and Malaysia Day, a picture will make its rounds with captions like: “Our captain, our finisher, our defender, our stopper”, and “This was the true Malaysia”, or “When we were one”.

Without showing it, you will know that it is a picture of the 1970s and 1980s national football team that featured Datuk Soh Chin Ann, Datuk Mokhtar Dahari, Datuk Santokh Singh, and Datuk R. Arumugam.

Sometimes, Datuk Hassan Sani and Datuk James Wong from East Malaysia would be included to show more diversity.

Malaysians cheered for them as one, colour-blind to race and religion.

As such, several people in the sporting industry are hoping that Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek will consider sports as an option to help foster a spirit of unity among the younger generation.

Last Monday, during the launch of the Rukun Negara Exploratory school-level programme – part of this year’s ‘Kembara Perpaduan Malaysia Madani’ (Malaysia Madani unity campaign) – Fadhlina disclosed plans to add to the 6,849 Rukun Negara Clubs in schools nationwide, including private schools.

Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong told Twentytwo13 last week that the initiative was a “knee-jerk” reaction, and would not work if the authorities did not develop an accompanying syllabus to help students understand what they were reciting in schools.

Teo also said sports had the potential to bring people together, but only when used as a tool to achieve a larger goal.

BA of Malaysia secretary-general Datuk Kenny Goh said that while he is not against more Rukun Negara Clubs, he believes sports deserve to be in the conversation in promoting unity.

“I have no idea what the minister’s intention is in increasing the number of Rukun Negara Clubs, but I feel sports is a well-tested and proven way of unifying the nation,” said Goh.

“We can see at the sports arenas around the country how sports unite the people. Perhaps, the minister should consider how she can use sports to educate children on unity.”

He said even those who were “not born athletes” could still enjoy sports, but understands that some would prefer to be a part of a club, rather than engage in physical activity.

“But I will also stand behind sports as a great way to teach children about unity and teamwork,” said Goh.

Malaysia Olympians Association president, Noraseela Khalid, echoed Goh’s sentiments.

The former national 400m hurdler said setting up sports clubs would promote unity more effectively.

“We are not talking about high-performance sports, but rather sporting activities for children,” said Noraseela, who competed in the 2012 London Olympics.

“We can teach the Rukun Negara in the sports clubs as part of the activities.

“Sports encourage unity, as people from different backgrounds will participate, and they can build lasting relationships.”

An example of how sports can unite the nation was the weekend’s TNB Thunderbolts Hockey Carnival in Port Dickson, organised by A. Rubini, wife of former national captain S. Kuhan.

The event saw 24 youth teams – 12 boys and 12 girls – competing to be the best. It also included a veteran’s tournament, and coaching clinics.

“The tournament showcased how sports can be a unifying factor. We have teams from all over the country with players of all races competing,” said Rubini, whose company, SLV Lifestyle, also sponsored a boys’ and girls’ team from Pahang (SK Merting), with mostly Orang Asli players.

“It is such a joy to see the smiles on the players’ faces. They treat each other as equals. Is that not how we want the children to act?”

Meanwhile, Safe Sport Malaysia president Sarina Sundara Rajah hopes that the Education Ministry can connect with the  Youth and Sports Ministry to include sports in plans to promote unity.

“Both ministries should work together to promote unity,” said Sarina, a member of the national team that won gold in rhythmic gymnastics at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

“They can find a way of infusing the Rukun Negara Clubs with sporting elements. It will be a win-win for them.”