Demi Malaysia: National athletes given boost ahead of unique Tokyo Olympics

It was nothing like the national athletes and sports fans had ever seen.

In the build up to the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics, the national athletes and para-athletes were given a morale boost – virtually.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was part of the small group who had gathered at Wisma KBS yesterday in a simple ceremony, called Amanat Perdana (Prime Mandate) to honour those bound for Tokyo.

Joining Ismail Sabri on the main stage were Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Chef de Mission (CDM) Datuk Lee Chong Wei, Olympic Council of Malaysia president Tan Sri Norza Zakaria and Paralympic Council of Malaysia president Datuk Seri Megat D. Shahriman Zaharudin.

The national athletes joined via a video conference call and the event was aired ‘live’ on social media. The restrictions were brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Images of athletes getting vaccinated while donning face masks and maintaining physical distancing were littered in the promotional video that was aired during the event. That itself, was an image no one could have ever imagined, just two years ago.

The athletes will be heading out to unchartered territory, but not exactly unprecedented.

Not unprecedented because the difficulties faced by the organisers of the Summer Games somewhat mirrored that of the 1920 Olympics. Some 2,626 athletes from 29 nations gathered in Belgium, in August 1920, to compete in the Summer Games – just several months after the Spanish Flu pandemic had pretty much died down.

Ismail Sabri congratulated Reezal Merican in getting the Malaysian contingent ready, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s not just about recording your own personal best, but also to get a medal. The prayers of the people will be with you. Malaysians hope to see the Jalur Gemilang fly at the podium and hope to hear the national anthem being played in Tokyo.”

This contingent has seen its calendar severely disrupted since the lockdown was imposed in Malaysia in March of last year. In fact, sports in Malaysia had been in the intensive care unit for some time, for it was the first to shut down and last to re-open in the pandemic.

Audio issues marred the earlier part of the ceremony, which resulted in muted silence when national diver Pandelela Rinong read the athletes’ oath. But it was isolated, as everything else went on as planned.

Organisers hope the same smooth sailing would be seen in Tokyo, starting July 23, when the Games begin. However, conspicuously absent would be the throngs of fans at the stands and the ability to mingle and absorb the Japanese culture, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With an online ceremony and a CDM who would be cheering on the contingent ‘virtually’ from Kuala Lumpur, the Tokyo Olympics is already shaping up to be a ‘different’ iteration of the world’s greatest sporting event.

Will Malaysia finally land its elusive Olympic gold medal? After a crazy 2020, anything can happen in the Land of the Rising Sun.