First-class Malaysian sporting heroes
Writer: Lee Lian Kong
Published: Fri, 15 Jul 2011
They’re everywhere! Flying, reading minds, attracting metals, smashing buildings into pulp. It’s hero-invasion season now. X-Men: First Class had barely ended before The Green Lantern swooped in, and soon, we will have Captain America.
Heroes are being featured everywhere.
They’re in our cinemas, DVDs, television and… billboards. But those on billboards aren’t the usual caped, crusading, costumed Hollywood creation – unfortunately, the only version of “hero” we know now. What’s slowly but surely taking over our billboards is our national football team.
Six months from their Suzuki Cup win, billboards now feature them, not their Western counterparts. It’s Safee Sali and K Gurusamy’s faces up there now, not Messi’s and Beckham’s. It is a true-born Malaysian, K Rajagopal, the visionary coach who overhauled the team, who was awarded a datukship.Not another Bollywood actor.
“Back then, we had [David] Beckham, [Tiger] Woods and all sorts of foreign superstars everywhere. Celcom actually sponsored
Ryan Giggs … but now you have Maxis ads featuring Mokhtar Dahari, Santokh Singh, Arumugam, etc,” says 21-yearold football fan Jas Dhillon.
“Nicole David used to have a massive advertisement at the side of a building near Jalan Dungun, Bangsar, sponsored by CIMB. Five years ago, it would have probably been Maria Sharapova.”
Colonial mentality be damned, these people we now call “heroes” are Malaysians. Cynics may dismiss this as over-the-top idealism and play down the effects of such actions. But advertising tactics to generate sales aside, these sports billboards are significantly affecting mindsets, especially that of the young.
“Yes, sports icons are heroes, massive heroes. Kids, boys especially, are going to look up to sports stars. Every kid wants to be the next football/basketball/hockey/rugby star. It’s the dream life,” says Jas Dhillon.
Sport isn’t just about balls and racquets. Football isn’t just about 22 men chasing a ball. Tennis isn’t just about short skirts. Sports’ main contribution to society is their stars. They are our modern-day heroes.
We do not need to be able to read minds or attract metals or fly. That’s fodder for movies, not real life. The beauty with sports is mankind’s maximisation of the human body to its full potential.
Using instinct, reflex and passion. Be it First Division or Third Division, World Cup or Tiger Cup, these athletes give us a twinge of something entirely different from our mundane days of work, mortgage payments and inflation.
They show us that it is possible to be paid to do something you enjoy. They prove to us that there exist success stories just from working hard.
Most of all, in all they do, they display to us passion, something sorely missed in our daily cycle of office blocks and rat races.
And to put these people on billboards, portraying to us pride and glory in a yellow and black Malaysian jersey, is to show the 23 million and more young people in this country that there are Malaysian heroes to look up to now and be one someday.
My generation didn’t have such role models. The generation before us had the Sidek brothers and also lived through the glory days of Malaysian football where we actually qualified for the Olympics (before boycotting it because of political reasons, unfortunately).
When we were growing up, everyone told us that to focus in sports was a silly idea. Go to your books, there lies your path to a successful life. Reach for that penthouse, that Beemer, those are the goals in your life.
We were a generation that grew up idolising foreigners, who donned Manchester United jerseys in a game between the Red
Devils and the Malaysian national team. By virtue of being a Malaysian, it is not your fate to succeed. Parents gave ultimatums: “Show me any Malaysian athlete who has made it and I’ll let you pursue sports.”
We were lost for words. We did not have a beaten and downtrodden, corruption-strife inexperienced football team go all the way and be Asian champions (and qualified for the Olympics after a twenty-year wait). We did not have a Malaysian as the
world’s No. 1 female squash player. What if a kid had grown up seeing our sepak takraw team on billboards? What if we had grown up seeing Santokh Singh at some random wedding or mamak?
Well, it’s not a question of if now. For today’s youth, the faces adorning those glittering billboards are Malaysian. The yellow and black jerseys are being sold like hot cakes and worn with real pride. The atmosphere in stadiums, even when just seen through the television, is both infectious and electric.
You don’t have to be a sports fan to see that this progress from being nothing to being one of the Top 12 teams in Asia is nothing short of remarkable. Forget X-Men: First Class – this is the return of the Malaysian sports