It’s a Small Cup After All

We sound like a desperate footballing nation clutching on to a small trophy and declaring it a blue ribbon. To outsiders looking in, we must appear a laughing stock.

By Kee Thuan Chye   

THE Prime Minister declared a public holiday. Just because the national football team won the AFF Suzuki Cup, involving Asean nations.

The Youth and Sports Minister said financial incentives would be given to the members of the team.

The MIC president asked for a datukship to be given to K Rajagopal, the coach.

The mainstream media went to town with its coverage of Malaysia’s victory over Indonesia in the final, with newspapers devoting pages to the news, including their front page, hailing the players as “heroes”.

Muzium Negara is going to hold an exhibition showcasing the team’s success in winning the Cup.

Please! We are going overboard!

Our football team did well and deserves to be congratulated. We should commend everyone who played a part in its victory and tell them they did a good job, and wish them future successes.

They should be praised for their courage in the second leg of the final for facing a hostile Indonesian crowd in Jakarta and losing by only 1-2.

And then we should move on.

What is the real agenda in declaring a public holiday? We didn’t win the World Cup; we merely won a tournament featuring the nations of ASEAN, a small regional grouping in the context of the big world out there.

Only eight teams participated in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 – the highest-ranked among them according to FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) was Thailand, at the 121st spot. Another participant, Laos, was the lowest among them, at number 167, out of 203 footballing nations.

Malaysia itself is ranked number 144.

So what’s the big deal in winning the Cup to warrant the declaration of a public holiday? If Malaysia had won the Asian Cup, that might have been something more to crow about. Although that still would not warrant a public holiday.

We sound like a desperate footballing nation clutching on to a small trophy and declaring it a blue ribbon. To outsiders looking in, we must appear a laughing stock.

Declaring a public holiday for a low-level achievement is sending out the wrong message and inculcating the wrong values.

It’s saying we don’t have to bother about standards, so we can celebrate mediocrity. The values cultivated from this are obviously negative: we don’t have to do really well in order to be rewarded handsomely. Hasn’t this been our national malady in the last few decades?

It’s also important to consider that one swallow does not make a summer. Our team’s victory this time in a competition involving Asia’s football minnows is not an automatic sign that bigger achievements are in the offing. As it is, we didn’t even qualify for the Asian Cup 2011.

By all means, we should give due encouragement to the team and build on their Suzuki Cup success, but big-scale celebrations are certainly premature. The rewards for now should be modest and proportionate to the achievement.

Giving a datukship to the coach would cheapen the value of such titles, if they are not already questionable in some cases. Let Rajagopal take Malaysia to the second round of the World Cup finals, then talk about giving him a title. That would be some achievement; although even to qualify for it is, at this point, unimaginable.

So why do we want to swell the heads of our footballers? Hasn’t it been the Malaysian hubris to laud sportspeople as heroes before their time has come? And then when they perform the next time on a bigger stage and falter, would it really be their fault if they failed to live up to our expectations?

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