By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
Like many Malaysians I stayed till late at night on Sunday, May 25 glued to the television cheering for our badminton team, as it battled Japan in the Thomas Cup Men’s Final. The last time Malaysia won the Cup was in 1992 when the country hosted the tournament in Kuala Lumpur. Backed by a vociferous home crowd the Malaysian team, led by the Sidek brothers, wrested the title defeating Indonesia 3-2 in a nail-biting final.
The 26th edition of badminton’s equivalent of tennis’s Davis Cup and football’s World Cup was held in New Delhi, India along with the Uber Cup, the world women’s team championship.
The Thomas Cup was the brainchild of Sir George Alan Thomas, a top-notch badminton player from England who dominated the sport in the early 1900s. He presented the Thomas Cup to the then International Badminton Federation (now Badminton World Federation) in 1939.
The 28-inch high and 16-inch wide silver trophy cost Sir George Thomas USD40,000 (USD500,000 today). The first tournament, planned for 1941-42, was derailed due to the outbreak of the Second World War. Sir George’s dream of a world-class tournament was finally realised in 1948-1949 when ten nations played in three qualifying zones – Pan America, Europe and Pacific. Malaya (Malaysia then) was the only participating team from the Pacific zone. In the inter-zone finals at Glasgow, Scotland, Malaya defeated United States of America 6-3 to lift the Cup for the first time.
The most successful Thomas Cup campaigner is Indonesia who won the title 13 times. China captured the Cup 10 times, Malaysia won it five times while Japan became the only team to wrest the title from the three major campaigners.
Although our players were second best to the Japanese in New Dehli, there is still cause for celebration. The defeat did not create a huge dent in our reputation. The fact that the 7-man team, led by World No. 1 singles player, Datuk Lee Chong Wei, scratch pairs of Tan Boon Heong/Hoon Thien How and Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong, second singles Chong Wei Feng and third singles Darien Liew, played their hearts out fighting for every point against a determined Japanese team, speaks volumes of our boys’ determination.
Even the erratic Darien Liew saw it fit to lift his game a notch higher knowing well that the odds were stacked against him. It took the world-ranked Takuma Ueda three sets to subdue Darien in the deciding match. The seven players who represented Malaysia were Chinese, I mean Malaysian Chinese.
The team’s success in reaching the finals of a hotly contested tournament had given much joy to the nation, currently besieged by racial bigotry and nonsensical mutterings by right-wing groups such as Perkasa and Isma and Umno’s mouthpiece, Utusan Malaysia. Their persistence in branding Chinese-born Malaysians as “pendatang” (trespassers) and playing the racial card to drive a wedge in our very fragile racial relationship is most disturbing, to say the least.
Although I was raised in the kampong amongst my Malay brethren, I never consider my Chinese and Indian friends as “pendatang”. Some of my very best friends then were Chinese and Indians and we still are, despite the passage of time.
My 11-year sojourn in a mission school, singing hymns during my formative years, did not make me a Christian. I am sad that the situation has come to this, in spite of claims that Malaysia is a moderate Muslim country.
We are strongest when we embrace diversity and meritocracy, and not otherwise. Unfortunately, not many of my “nationalistic” Malay friends see things this way.
The seven so-called “trespassers” had showed peace and fun loving Malaysians that we can rise above petty politics and divisive views of those who believe that Malaysia belongs to one race from one religious community.