Snooker needs a hero

Thor Chuan Leong  being interviewed on TV.
Thor Chuan Leong being interviewed on TV.

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DEC 17 — I was tempted to write about the National Football Development Programme workshop starting tomorrow.

Instead, on Sunday night I came across a picture of national snooker player Thor Chuan Leong being interviewed by Astro Arena posted on his Facebook page.

Thor had won the Sea Games gold medal in the men’s singles event. Last Friday, Thor partnered former Asian junior champion Moh Keen Hoo to pot the bronze medal in the men’s doubles event.

The picture put a smile on my face instantly. I spoke to Thor soon after and he was modest as ever.

“I almost lost la,” were his first words.

“I had no expectations. All I had in mind was to give my best.”

After that conversation, I knew I had to write something about snooker — a sport that is only celebrated during the biennial Sea Games.

Life on the green baize has never been easy for our cue artists, especially in their run up to the Myanmar Sea Games. Unlike most sports in the country, our snooker players do not enjoy centralised training, they do not have a training centre, the Malaysian Snooker and Billiards Federation (MSBF) were even suspended for a year. To top it all, there isn’t a national coach!

Sadly, not many will stand up or even rant about the sport — unlike the constant criticism towards Malaysian football — simply because it is snooker.

The sport is not played at multi-sports events with the Sea Games being the highest, thus the subdued popularity. It was featured in the Asian Games but is now part of the Asian Indoor Games. 

Snooker, just like the stigma bowling once had, is considered a parlour sport. Parents are not keen on their children frequenting snooker centres.

But it is quite common to see professionals, in their fancy ties and rolled up sleeves, having a go on the pool table at snooker outlets. In fact, the game is taken more seriously outside the Klang Valley.

Operators claim they are forced to pay high gaming taxes to local councils. Snooker is listed as a sport under the Sports Development Act 1997 but to be exempted from gaming taxes, operators would need to ensure their centres are smoke-free and only allow members to play in it. This, say the operators, is not profitable.

This is among the very many issues MSBF plan to address.

The federation were suspended for almost a year but those in the scene knew trouble started brewing in 2011. MSBF’s suspension was lifted on Oct 18. The game has remained stagnant and MSBF are now eager to revisit efforts on setting up centres nationwide.

MSBF had a grassroots programme that ran from 2002 till about 2005 involving five schools. Sadly, the lack of finance and support from parents saw its premature death.

What snooker needs is a hero. Many still remember the exploits of Sam Chong, winner of multiple Sea Games, the first Malaysian to win the 1990 Asian Snooker championship in Jakarta, the first Malaysian to join the WPBSA professional ranks in 1991and silver medallist at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok.

Moh or Thor could fill Chong’s big shoes if given proper guidance.

MSBF president Melvin Chua had this to say: “Snooker is huge in China because of Ding (Junhui). Snooker was once very popular in Malaysia because of Chong.

“Like football, if the winning stops, the popularity stops. It is the same with badminton and squash. That is why the development cannot stop.”

All the best to the crew — Thor, Moh, Suhana Dewi Sabtu, Ibrahim Amir, Alan Tan and Klaudia Djajalie in Myanmar.

Hopefully our snooker players will be remembered more often instead of just during the Sea Games.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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