The following article has also been sent to Malaysiakini as a letter to the editor.
As a Malaysian, I avidly followed the path of our shuttler Lee Chong Wei in the ongoing 2008 Beijing , making sure that I him whenever I possible could. I personally cheered in delight and began celebrating with my housemates when Chong Wei beat Korean shuttler Hyun Il in the semifinals and assured Malaysia of a medal for the first time in 12 years. I had never felt prouder in my life when the Malaysian flag was raised in the presentation ceremony as I wiped tears of pride and joy. But my tears of pride and joy quickly turned into feelings of extreme anger, disappointment, and disgust when I not only saw Chong Wei, but Malaysia’s medal paraded and flashed around a Barisan Nasional function in an election campaign, manipulated and exploited for votes. This ultimately begs the question: Who does the medal belong to? Malaysia… or Barisan Nasional?
For those who do not know which function I am referring to, I direct you to Malaysiakini’s video entitled ‘Arif Eyes a Win’. Here we see a Malaysian sportsman campaigning for Barisan Nasional as he not only attends the function in support of a candidate, but an exhibition match with him in public. However, this is hardly a new occurrence. In badminton alone, we have seen Malaysian shuttlers Tan Boon Heong and Koo Kien Keat campaign in previous by-elections last year, exploiting their fame when they won the All title, while Chong Wei himself went to campaign in Gopeng in the March General Elections.
Malaysian sportspeople should serve Malaysia first and foremost, and should only focus on serving their country in the arena to bring glory to their nation. It is the rakyat who pays and supports them in their training and development as a player. Hence, their first and only duty, should be to Malaysia. But to Chong Wei I ask this question: Is your first and only duty, to Malaysia, or to Barisan Nasional? This… is the RM300,000 question. Sportspeople should not misuse their fame which they acquired through the sponsorship and support of the rakyat for political reasons. Their duty is to the country, not Barisan Nasional! On the other hand, I am absolutely disgusted by how Barisan Nasional exploited the fame of Malaysia’s sportspeople for their own, selfish political reasons. Do you know no shame?
While the use of Chong Wei for political campaign is in itself a big misuse of the government’s discretion and power, this is not what incensed me the most. What infuriated me the most was when the medal, Malaysia’s medal, was parade and flashed around in a Barisan Nasional function, blatantly politicizing the medal. Of course Chong Wei owns this medal, but this medal also rightfully belongs to every single Malaysian, and it would be fair to say that every single Malaysian owns a part of this medal. But instead, that very that brought tears of joy and pride to my eyes, gets taken to a political ceremony, gets paraded and flashed around as political fodder for Barisan Nasional, and for that, I feel ashamed, disgusted, and sadness. Ashamed because what us, united all Malaysians no matter what creed, religion or color, no matter what political affiliations we had, as we stood together cheering our athlete on, hoping for him, praying for him, is snatched from us and instead, manipulated for the selfish political means of a single political party. What used to be my pure and uninhibited pride and joy is now tainted with the filth of politicking and campaigning, robbing me of any prior pride or joy that I previously felt so strongly after our triumph. Disgusted, because of the extent of which the Barisan Nasional camp is willing to go to win an election. To steal the pride of our nation, manipulating and selling it for votes, that is the biggest crime here. Finally, sadness because of the state my beloved country is in. Sadness, because the medal that once belonged to Malaysia, or so I foolishly thought when the Malaysian flag was hoisted, now belongs to Barisan Nasional. Sadness, because I can no longer feel proud of the medal, because it no longer belongs to me, or my country. Sadness, because I have to tell my overseas friends that Malaysia came back from Beijing empty handed. Sadness, because the line separating politics and sports is now so blurred, that it becomes OK for sporting heroes and sporting to be utilized, to be used, to be manipulated for the selfish political gain of a single political party. For that, I feel the upmost sorrow and grief.