Rich literature on sports, OCM yet to see print after 15 years

Did you know that modern sports in the Malay peninsula was introduced in Penang in the late 1780s in a bid to reduce the cultural gap between the British and locals?

Did you also know that the table tennis doubles category was introduced in Malaya in the 1930s by two Ipoh-based lawyers – one of them being John Aloysius Thivy who later became the founder and president of the Malayan Indian Congress?

These are just two of many amazing facts documented by historian and sports buff – the late Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim – and Associate Prof Selina Khoo Phaik Lin.

Their draft of Malaysia’s sporting history and that of Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) – originally known as Federation of Malaya Olympic Council (FMOC) – was completed in 2005.

The work was funded by OCM. The other literature on traditional and modern sports in Malaysia was documented as part of The Encyclopedia of Malaysia series (Sports and Recreation) published in 2008.

It is understood that the draft was approved by OCM’s executive board years ago but has yet to be printed till today.

The nearly 60-page draft, sighted by Twentytwo13, details several historical moments, including Sir Ernest Birch’s (son of the first British Resident in Perak JWW Birch) initiative of organising the unofficial Pan-Malayan athletics meet in Ipoh in 1906.

Popularly known as the ‘Ipoh Olympiad’, the competition was held annually until 1913. World War I interrupted the meet and it resumed in Kuala Lumpur in 1920.

Another interesting fact is the participation of the athletics team in the second Asian Games in Manila in 1954.

One of the first tasks of the FMOC was to endorse the decision of the Federation of Malaya Amateur Athletic Union to send a contingent of eight athletes (four men and four women) and two officials – manager N.M. Vasagam and coach Lim Thye Hee – to the regional Games.

The officials would bear their own expenses while the cost for the team was estimated at $9,000.

Appeal letters for donations met with poor response, forcing the athletics union to organise a charity football match and to host a dance at Majestic Hotel where “souvenir programmes were put on sale at $1 each”. Some $1,300 was raised from the football game but the amount raised from the dance was not known.

The Malayan athletes eventually went to Manila where “the average temperature of 96 degrees (Fahrenheit) and the accommodation in zinc-roofed army type houses with a ceiling height of eight feet made the conditions far from comfortable for the teams”.

The team returned empty-handed although both the men’s 4x400m team and women’s 4x100m bettered their previous times.

The writers, had in the preface, said that since this was the first time a serious attempt was made to record the history of OCM, it was of paramount importance that it should be an accurate account.

“To ensure accuracy, the main sources used for this book are the FMOC/OCM minutes which thankfully are almost intact.

“The sport associations have been far less meticulous and assiduous. Many do not keep records faithfully.”

They wrote that the newspapers were also excellent sources, “but to go through the daily newspapers covering 50 years is, to say the least, terribly time-consuming and will require several years of work. As it is, the project has taken a little longer than anticipated.”

In the epilogue, the writers said OCM leaders had an easier time in the first half of the council’s existence as the country was still committed to the achievement of excellence in international sports.

“Schools were nurseries which produced young talents who blossomed into international sportsmen/women. In this respect, it is accurate to say that badminton, in the past, achieved the highest distinction.

“With schools less inclined to be the training ground for budding national sportsmen/women, the possibility of the present generation of sports leaders being succeeded by those of equal calibre becomes a moot point. In sports, it is not the ability that should take precedence but passion.”

The writers added that the older generation of sports officials has continued to serve happily without remuneration and that in the not too distant future, it would be difficult to persuade people to sacrifice time and energy purely for the love of sports.