KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — It’s a sign of how far they have fallen that two of the country’s most popular team sports - football and hockey - will again be missing when the 2020 Tokyo Olympics get underway on July 23.
Our national football team, or Harimau Malaya as they are fondly called, have qualified for the Olympics twice - the 1972 Munich and 1980 Moscow editions. They, however, boycotted the Moscow Games.
In the 1972 Munich Olympics, Malaysia finished 10th out of the 16 participating countries. They lost 3-0 to West Germany and 6-0 to Morocco but edged the United States 3-0 to finish third in Group A.
Goals from Shaharuddin Abdullah, the late Wan Zawawi Wan Yusof and the late Salleh Ibrahim in the 3-0 win over the United States are something that all Harimau Malaya fans will cherish forever.
Former national skipper Datuk Soh Chin Aun, who played in the 1972 Olympics and was part of the team who qualified for the 1980 Olympics, hopes that the stakeholders will be more proactive in ensuring Malaysia will qualify for the Olympics in the near future.
With the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) dreaming of qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the 71-year-old former defender admitted that it won’t be easy for Malaysia to qualify as other countries have improved a lot.
“Of course playing in the Olympics is the highest achievement in sports. It is great to be able to play in the Olympics. Wish them the best, (but they will) need to put in the effort to qualify.
“As far as we are concerned, it is becoming more and more difficult to qualify because it looks like other countries, especially Asian teams like South Korea, Japan and the Arab countries, are so far ahead of us,” Chin Aun, or ‘Tauke’ as he is more popularly known for his astute and firm leadership on and off the field, told Bernama.
The national football legend, who hails from Melaka, had represented the country from 1969 to 1984 and guided Malaysia to the bronze medal at the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran, Iran.
At the 1972 Olympics, Chin Aun played with some of the greatest footballers Malaysia has ever known, such as the late Namat Abdullah, the late M. Chandran, the late V. Krishnasamy, Wong Kam Fook, the late Wong Choon Wah, Harun Jusoh, the late Ali Bakar, Looi Loon Teik, Lim Fung Kee and Bahwandi Hiralal, to name a few.
While football, the country’s number one sport, has only managed to qualify for two Olympics, Malaysia’s second most popular team sport - hockey - has made it to nine editions of the world’s biggest multi-sports Games.
The national men’s hockey team even had the honour of having featured in four editions in a row from 1964 to 1976, with their best achievement being finishing eighth twice - in Munich 1972 when 11 nations competed and in Montreal four years later when 16 teams participated.
However, their stars have since waned after they last qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The Speedy Tigers, as the national men’s hockey squad are known, have since missed five straight editions of the Olympics.
Datuk Mirnawan Nawawi, who skippered the Speedy Tigers when they last featured in the Olympics in Sydney, is optimistic that the current batch of players has the ability to end the long wait and qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
But, Mirnawan, whose nickname is the Boss, said the hard work has to start now.
“No point looking back and crying on spilt milk. Instead, we must continue to learn from experience so that we can move forward and qualify for the next edition (of the Olympics). Apart from detailed planning, as well as good programmes, we need players with a winning mentality and a hunger for success.
“With the support from all parties and the players’ own hard work, we can qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. You are not a complete player until you play in the Olympics,” said the country’s flag bearer at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Mirnawan, who played for the national team for 14 years from 1989 and featured in three Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000) before being appointed as national team manager last year, admitted that his dream was to see another generation of Malaysian players qualify for the Olympics. — Bernama