Help, don’t mock Malaysian athletes who freeze during media interviews

Malaysians often struggle with public speaking. It can be excruciating for young athletes, some of whom have been plucked from obscurity and thrust into the limelight.

They can freeze on air, as they did in India last weekend, when Haikal Nazri-Choong Hon Jiang won the Super 100 Guwahati Masters on Sunday, a week after capturing the Super 300 Syed Modi International in Lucknow.

Their back-to-back triumphs on Indian soil earned them plaudits – until a video started circulating on social media, mocking their inability to speak in English, and their general demeanour when being interviewed following their victory in Guwahati.

Since then, many have shared the video and criticised Malaysia’s education system, and the duo. It was something footballer Faiz Subri endured after winning the Fifa Puskas Award for Goal of the Year in 2016.

Faiz struggled to convey his message in English after receiving his award, leading to brickbats from armchair critics. He later shared a video of himself speaking in Bahasa Melayu, looking confident and poised.

Let’s not forget that Lin Dan, Chen Long, and Kento Momota – three great badminton players – are confident in answering questions in their native tongues. The same goes for arguably the greatest footballer of his generation, Lionel Messi, and current Uruguayan national coach, Marcelo Bielsa.

All have great microphone skills in their native tongues.

Bielsa, an Argentine, spent four years in England as boss of Leeds, leading the club to the Premier League in 2020.

Not once did he do an interview in English. He was never criticised for it, as all that mattered was delivering results.

It is about being confident when facing the media, and Bielsa – who knows English as he once corrected his translator on air – chooses to speak Spanish.

Back to our shuttlers. Haikal is 20, and Choong is three years older. Their partnership only began four months ago. They do not have much experience speaking to foreign media.

It was painful to see them avoiding answering questions, although Haikal did get his message across in English.

Rather than mock them, we should give them props for facing the media.

In the United States, the National Basketball Association and National Football League have mandatory media training camps for rookies, as they see the players as assets that they can monetise.

Players are trained to field questions from the media and are coached on how to behave in front of the camera. We should have something similar in Malaysia.

Long-time sports journos often joke that the standard replies from Malaysian athletes are: “Saya akan cuba terbaik (I will try my best)” or “Bola itu bulat (the ball is round)”.

Seldom do we get athletes like Datuk Nicol David who can analyse her game and break down what went right, or wrong, during her match.

Hopefully, Haikal, Choong and other athletes realise they need help.

And instead of mocking them, we should celebrate their results.