The Days When Sports Were Part Of Patriotism And Nation Building

in Sports

KUALA LUMPUR – “We all like sports. I could still recall how people, including my father, rushed to buy a radio to follow the Thomas Cup badminton finals match between Malaya and United States in Singapore in 1952.

“At that time, Radio Malaya broadcasted the game live. There was a great sense of euphoria, moreover it was the first time we owned a radio. Sports had united our hearts. Sports was effective in uniting us”.

This is the narrative provided by the nation’s respected sports critic and historian, Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim on how sports bound together the citizens in the pre and early post Merdeka era.

Regardless it was football, badminton or even hockey, or it was a state or national level meet, it was not something to be missed and sports was what kept people occupied at that time.

The community, regardless of their racial and religious background, came out in full force in show of support, said Khoo smiling away recounting his old days.

Sports were in their hearts, to the extent the villagers would head to the towns located far away, some on cycles, to watch tournaments!


Even the rain, heat, or lethargy, failed to stop them from coming out in droves to show their patriotism and support to their teams.

Imagine, in early 1975, public transportation was still limited yet 50,000 people flooded the Merdeka Stadium in a show of support for the Malaysian hockey team in a semi-final match with India.

“That was a world record. But looking back, I think, thank god Malaysia lost. If Malaysia had made it to the finals and 100,000 people made their way to Merdeka Stadium, the stadium would have collapsed,” he said in jest.

In the late 1940s, Johor boasted for its football great Dollah Don.

Due to his agility in the game, he was even invited to play with China’s team. The football fans in China were so impressed with him to the extend they even found it fit to give him a Chinese name – Toh Ah Tong.

“However, sports is no longer the same like what it used to be. Being someone who has been active in sports, it is sad to see how the position of sports in the country had deteriorated,” said Khoo to Bernama.

In today’s society, sports have been relegated to second choice. Parents no longer place emphasis on sports thinking that it is a waste of time.

Most families today prefer to see their children excel academically, thus the children spend more time in their academic pursuit.

There are parents who forbid their children taking up sports as they don’t want to see them returning home with dirty clothes or worry over their safety due to the rise in crime.

“Thus, it is not surprising that the fields that used to be filled with children as soon as the clock strikes 4 in the evening, are now mostly empty,” said the historian.


Today’s younger generation are better off. There were many sports facilities available for their use, said Khoo adding that this was a stark contrast with his younger days where sports facilities were limited.

All that was needed then is an open space to carry out sports activities.

As for example, when Malaya badminton squad emerged Thomas Cup champions for the first time in 1949, after defeating Denmark, badminton courts mushroomed everywhere.

The limited facilities were not the only issue then, Khoo recalled he and his friends had to travel long distances just to participate in sports.

“I can still recount how we took the bus from Teluk Intan to Hutan Melintang and crossed the Sungai Bernam river on sampan to get to an estate there and play football. It was really exhilarating, as we won,” he said.

Can the youngsters of today do the same? asked Khoo.

In fact, the sports facilities are more than adequate. If parents fear of their children’s safety outdoors, they could consider indoor sports facilities.

In a nutshell, it is whether one wants to do it or not.


In fact, sports is the best platform to catalyse the patriotic fervour and bind together the society regardless of their background.

“We cannot emerge as a nation state if the people do not unite. The unity was inculcated through sports. And don’t forget when Malaya won the Thomas cup in 1949, we were still living under Emergency.

“When we emerged champions, everyone was happy and proud with the achievement,” he said adding that the country had participated in Olympics even before 1956.

It was not only the ordinary citizens who loved sports, even the father of independence Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra was an avid footballer since young. Thus it was not surprising that he was appointed as the President of the Malay Football Association.

“He in fact had represented St. Catherine College’s football team in in 1930 while studying in Cambridge.

“He even chose stadium Merdeka to declare independence and the same venue later on hosted numerous sports meet and gatherings,” said Khoo continuing with his story on the role of sports in establishing a nation state.


That is why parents have to be aware that, sports still play an important role and it is an effective platform in uniting the people, explained Khoo.

Parents should not over pamper their children with modern entertainment gadgets or just focus on their achievements in exams.

However, the sad fate of sports today is not only attributable the attitude of parents and prevalence of entertainment gadgets, but also the poor performance of national athletes that has demoralised many, said Khoo.

“Why are we so taken up with foreign football matches like Arsenal vs Liverpool? It is because the achievements of the locals sports front is so disappointing?

“Take for example the sepak takraw. It can be said we are the ones who created this game, but now we even lose out to Korea,” he pointed out.

As for Khoo, the sportsmanship of those days and now are far different.

In those days though they were not paid or given rewards, yet they were high spirited and patriotic and worked hard to achieve success for the nation.

This is the spirit that should be emulated today, added Khoo.


However, the glory of sports can be revived by providing a balanced emphasis between academic and sports, apart from appointing trained coaches instead of just asking the teachers play the same role.

All this can be done, what more the government has introduced the ‘1Murid 1Sukan’ policy, to enhance the quality of sports and help create many athletes of caliber.

Thus it is time, more focus is given to sports in the process of nation state building. – Bernama