‘Refreshing’ OLY Day 2022 right step in making Malaysian Olympians, past and present, relevant

The men, some in jackets, others in floral shirts, looked sharp, while the women turned heads in their dresses and high heels.

None of them showed their age, despite having left the sports scene decades ago.

This was the scene at Loop KL, a sky bar located on the 34th floor of Pacific Regency Hotel Suites in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, last Friday. The swimming pool and rotating lights turned the bar into a chill, relaxed lounge.

Malaysian Olympians gathered to celebrate the first-ever OLY Day 2022. Organised by the Malaysia Olympians Association (MOA), the event was to pay tribute to the nation’s finest athletes who had donned the national colours on the biggest sporting stage – the Olympics.

Non-athletes in the room certainly felt small and intimidated by the illustrious Olympians. Yet, the Olympians were a sporting bunch, as they made everyone feel at ease.

The event also saw the presentation of OLY pins and certificates to new and existing Olympians – a recognition of the hard work, dedication, and promotion of Olympic values by the Olympians.

As images and videos of the event started flooding social media, the words “refreshing” and “a breath of fresh air” were bandied about.

“That’s the whole idea. We wanted to bring a fresh approach in showing our appreciation for the Olympians in a respectful, yet exciting manner,” said former national hurdler and MOA president, Noraseela Khalid, who ran at the 2012 London Olympics.

Among those who attended were Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan, Datuk Shahrudin Ali (sprinters), Annastasia Karen Raj, Yuan Yufang (walkers), Datuk Leong Mun Yee (diving), Datuk Cheah Soon Kit, Ong Ewe Hock (badminton), Che Chew Chan, Elaine Teo (taekwondo), Sarjit Singh, Maninderjit Singh, Kevin Nunis, Jiwa Mohan and Stephen Van Huizen (hockey).

Every Olympian there had interesting insights. But it’s not in their nature to relive past glories. In fact, a quick chat around the table saw conversations about today, and moving forward. That, in itself, was refreshing.

Van Huizen, who had the honour of playing for, and coaching the national hockey team, spoke about his desire to return to his alma mater, St Paul’s Institution, in Seremban, to teach hockey.

“In the past, it was the seniors who taught the juniors hockey, and this tradition must go on. A few of us former students are eager to return to our old school and get hockey going,” said Van Huizen, who played at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Sarjit, meanwhile, spoke about his hockey league at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil. He was proud of the initiative and hoped that more people would start similar social leagues to further promote the sport.

MOA had decided to ditch the traditional hotel ballroom affair for a more relaxed venue. It worked.

It’s a shame that the event didn’t get as much media exposure as it should have. The views of the Olympians, given the athletes’ performance at the recently-concluded Thomas Cup and Hanoi SEA Games, would have been invaluable.

MOA should also take a stand in sports- and athlete-related matters. MOA, for starters, has decided to support the Safe Sport Act campaign. It remains unclear, however, given the looming general election, if the draft of the Act will see the light of day in the august House by year’s end. But the support matters.

Malaysians also need to hear the voices of our Olympians. They must have a say, and a stake, in the local sports scene. This will ensure that the former athletes will continue to remain relevant, educating and inspiring the younger generation, instead of merely hoping for people to remember their past achievements.

Hopefully, this “refreshing” approach adopted by the current crop of leaders at MOA will translate into more bold initiatives that will make people stand up and take notice.