Tribal national jersey seems like a missed branding opportunity

I’m not a big fan of the fifth generation of the national jersey. There, I said it.

Designs are subjective. I get it.

With my left arm heavily inked with traditional designs, many would assume that I would appreciate the jersey’s tribal-like motif.

But I don’t.

The design, launched last month ahead of the SEA Games in Hanoi, reminded me of Jeremy Clarkson’s words while reviewing the Mazda RX8 on Top Gear over a decade ago.

Clarkson described the car’s tail lights as “busier than a bishop’s hat”.

I can live with the busy tail lights or the rotary engine machine, but not the “busier than a bishop’s hat” motif on the jersey.

When I tweeted my views about the design, sports enthusiast Ameer Fadhil had this to say:

For the record, Ameer has featured in several amateur mixed martial arts competitions and loves two wheels.

However, Twentytwo13’s Graig Nunis likes the new design. His justification – “you can see a tiger’s face”.

The national jersey, dubbed the “tiger stripe”, has a fascinating history.

A nationwide competition was held in 2005 to introduce a uniformed national kit. The competition attracted over 4,000 entries.

The winner was Zulkifli Abdul Aziz, an assistant architect from Johor.

Limkokwing University College improved the winning design to five tiger stripes, and it was launched by then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak that same year.

A local company, Mesuma Sports Sdn Bhd, produced the jerseys for the national contingent. The stripes were reduced to three to make it “commercial friendly”. That was design No 2.

Mesuma and the National Sports Council (NSC) enjoyed a cordial relationship, but it turned sour when NSC entered an agreement with Telekom Malaysia to launch the Team Malaysia Panthera jersey on April 28, 2011.

Mesuma was unhappy as it was the registered proprietor of the trademark for 10 years – from July 9, 2009, to July 9, 2019. Someone didn’t do his/her homework.

The government agency insisted it was the rightful proprietor of the design. A legal tussle ensued, and it went to the Federal Court. NSC eventually won the rights.

But a change in guard at the Youth and Sports Ministry saw a new design (No 3) introduced in 2014. The ministry, then under Khairy Jamaluddin, took extra precautions to ensure the new design by Melinda Looi would not meet with bad publicity.

This included sending representatives from the ministry to meet with reporters days before the launch, hoping for good press.

Certain quarters believed Looi did a good job transforming a “boring and ugly” design. But others thought it was like mud splattered on a jersey.

Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

After Khairy left, design No 4 was introduced, which saw stripes from the top to the bottom of the jersey.

By then, many had forgotten about design No 2, which NSC had painstakingly fought to be the sole owner.

It remains unclear how much was spent on legal fees to claim a design that has not been used since.

There has been complete silence over the matter – just like the mystery of the National Sports Vision 2030, the accounts of the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, the findings of the Podium Programme Enhance Committee, and details from the task force formed in 2017 to study issues related to harassment of high-performance athletes.

Last month, Malaysia saw the birth of design No 5 – a breakaway from the tiger stripe legacy. The one that I’m not particularly fond of.

The evolution of the national jersey since 2005.

The words of the late Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing come to mind. I remember him saying: “The jerseys were accepted, but the spirit behind the stripes was not promoted, and we lost an excellent branding opportunity in sports.”

The hunger to create a “fashionable” outfit overshadowed the main reason behind the tiger stripe creation – to instil the symbol of power and courage among our athletes and all Malaysians.

The powers-that-be did not explain the vision behind the design to the masses. The idea of the design was beyond sports.

It was to cultivate the love for our national icon – the Harimau Malaya – especially among the young. It was also to encourage Malaysians to embrace the spirit of the tiger.

As Lim once said: “We could have the tiger promoted among schools to instil a love for the tiger so young Malaysians would grow to see it as a symbol of courage and embrace it.

“It’s a happy idea for parents to say, ‘you should be one of the tigers’. It’s the spirit we want to capture.”

The key element in branding is consistency. Also, to succeed, branding exercises must include the young.

Decades of consistent initiatives have seen brands like Milo, Panadol and Pampers cementing their reputation and existence in the minds and hearts of millions, as words like chocolate malt, paracetamol and diapers have since become alien to many.

The same should have been done with the tiger stripe jersey. It could have been the “uniform” for Malaysians.

Evolution is necessary but for the greater good.

Design-wise, it should have been a simple yet recognisable design among Malaysians and foreigners.

A busy design, accompanied by sponsors’ logos, would only create a messy and confusing kit that would be an eyesore.

Among the five designs, the “boring and ugly” three-stripe design remains the winner – to me, at least.

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