When athletes bridge the gap between sports and politics

Former world No. 1 shuttler Lee Chong Wei is hailed as Malaysia’s most successful athlete in the sport and is considered a legend on the court, winning countless matches and winning the World Badminton Championship earlier this year. He was inducted into the Federation’s Hall of Fame.

But in 2019, amid a debate over the introduction of khat (Malay-Arabic calligraphy) as a compulsory subject in schools, he caused a stir off the court with a Facebook post urging Malaysians to unite.

“We Malaysians, regardless of race, play together, eat together, and care for each other.

“We support our country Malaysia. Will a random voice from an unknown place stop all this?” His post has received over 300,000 likes and hundreds of thousands of likes. Collected a share of

Lee’s post was an example of how athletes, usually considered apolitical, can influence national sentiment.

Political analyst Mazlan Ali said in an interview with Malaysia Now that athletes play an important role in various fields, including political issues.

The Universiti Teknologi Malaysia senior lecturer said the players are considered true national heroes who not only represent the country but also bring pride and honor to the country on the international stage.

He said all Malaysians, regardless of age, religion or ethnicity, celebrated Mr Lee’s victory.

“So if these athletes start voicing their opinions about politicians, the public will definitely react, because negative perceptions of the politician in question can cause an overwhelming reaction.” he said.

Meanwhile, O2 Research Malaysia chief researcher Anis Anwar Suhaimi said athletes carry heavy responsibilities, which often causes them to distance themselves from politics.

But she also said that sport has a role to play in uniting Malaysians across political divides.

Because athletes represent their countries at regional and world championships, their political opinions may offend members of the public who believe they should focus on their responsibilities rather than getting involved in politics. she stated.

However, she said that sports performance is associated with a country’s reputation and is inevitably intertwined with political sentiments, as people pay attention to government sports policies, regardless of whether they affect athletes. he added.

“In this situation, athletes have the space to speak out and criticize national sports policy and the decisions of the Ministry of Youth and Sports and ministers.

“Criticism from athletes who have excelled on the world stage and have many fans affects the public’s perception of the department’s capabilities,” she said.

For example, former Minister of Youth and Sports Syed Sadiq Syed Abdul Rahman was criticized by some athletes for his policies and decisions that were detrimental to their welfare.

Leading discus thrower Mohammad Irfan Shamsuddin takes Saeed Sadiq to task over the ministry’s decision to abolish the podium program and terminate the contract of personal trainer Frantisek Petrovic. imposed.

Irfan, who won a silver medal at the 2017 SEA Games under the guidance of Slovakia’s national coach, sparked controversy with his posts on social media, leading to criticism from the ministry and an explanation from Saeed Sadiq.

Anis said the athletes were criticizing the minister in charge, not the government as a whole.

However, when athletes are treated unfairly or, as in the case of Hanis Nadia Ong, a national women’s hockey player, and Bong Guan Ik, a former Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) reserve player, there are cases where athletes are treated unfairly or because of race or religion. If you get involved in any related issues, the situation will only get worse. She said the impact is even greater beyond the realm of sport and people will appreciate how ministers deal with issues like this without prejudice.

In February, Hanis was suspended from international representation after sparking outrage for using a racial slur at an AR Rahman concert.

In the same month, Bong caused controversy by making racist comments about BAM management, which he later apologized for.

When asked if sports are connected to politics, Mazlan answered, “Yes.”

“One of the things that the public does not tolerate is politicians using sport for personal gain,” he said, adding that politicians are competing for top positions within sports associations and organizations. He pointed out how they compete.

“It may seem that politicians are only interested in glory and power, but it is the athletes who work hard on and off the field and bring true glory to this country,” he said.

Mazlan also said that people are becoming uncomfortable with the intersection of sports and politics, and that athletes can use sports as a platform to influence and raise awareness on a variety of topics, including politics. He added that there is.

“They have the ability to gain the trust of people, especially those guarding the fence.

“People trust athletes more than politicians,” he added.

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