“Iran vs Iraq” might seem unwise, but through squash this occurred with keen competition in an early round of the CIMB Foundation 17th Asian Junior Team Championships (AJTC) that took place from 28 January to 1 February at Bukit Jalil. (The two countries’ football teams also met recently at the Asian Cup in Canberra).
Since the first AJTC in 1983 both our boys’ and girls’ teams have finished in the top three every time except on two occasions. On Sunday, Malaysia emerged victorious in both categories, a feat we also accomplished at the 14th edition in 2009 in Chennai, India.
Junior championships don’t get the same attention as major events like the Malaysian Open, but they indicate how we will perform in the future. It is often lamented by frustrated patriots that Malaysian sporting prowess is declining, and the idea that “there are no successors to our current heroes” is bandied about. That accusation is being disproved in squash, and hopefully further evidence will emerge this year during events like the Asian Individual Championship and SEA Games. Of course, Datuk Nicol David’s legendary status and record-breaking 106 months (nearly nine years) as world number one may well be insurmountable by any squash player for decades to come – but the trajectory she followed will serve as an inspiration for generations. (And she just won the Cleveland Classic, her 79th professional title.)
Although I have only been on the committee of the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) for seven months, being involved has made me understand the level of dedication and volunteerism that has made our country so successful. Another crucial factor is steady leadership and strong teamwork that the association has enjoyed since its inception in 1972. Indeed, the historical lists of its committee members reveal names well-known as architects, lawyers, bankers, princes, military men and past squash champions.
Unfortunately I could not watch all the final matches of the AJTC due to a clash with a long-held appointment in Seremban: the launch of the Euroasia Association of Performing Arts. For the past two years a dedicated team of teachers and volunteers from Angel’s Class in Seremban have been organising the Euroasia Youth Music Festival, but through this association much more can be done, in particular for the development of classical music in Negeri Sembilan. In my speech I noted the wide variety of sponsors involved in making the initiative a success – there was a supplier of seafood, a restaurant, a political party, a car workshop, an insurance company, a tailor and a civil engineering firm – and of course the Royale Bintang Resort & Spa, which has so faithfully supported the performing arts through its adoption of the Royale Sunday Matinee over the past year.
After the launch was a gala concert in conjunction with the Yamtuan’s 67th Birthday, and I accompanied the Arioso Sinfonia – recently back from Italy where they were on tour representing Malaysia – in playing a medley of P Ramlee songs. Thankfully the other performers were so distinguished – including Dato’ Johari Salleh, Dr Andrew Filmer, Loo Bang Hean and Ng Chong Lim – that my mistimed semiquavers were easily forgotten.
No doubt, sport and music feed on different emotions, appeal to different people and deliver different legacies. A victory in a sporting event brings immediate national gratification, but artistic genius may take years to be recognised. Still, when I ask fellow citizens (and Penangites in particular) to name great Malaysians, Datuk Nicol David and Tan Sri P Ramlee will usually be among them.
On Sunday it will be the 112th anniversary of the birth of another great Malaysian (and Penangite in retirement), Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. The Father of Independence was a jogger and footballer but I can find no record of him playing squash (unlike his successor Tun Abdul Razak), nor are there any public recordings of him singing (though there are photos of him dancing). Still there is no doubt that he had a great appreciation for both sport and the arts and their important role in nation building and international diplomacy. “It is my belief that sport can foster good relationships between man and man and between nations and nations”, he said, and when he was older he was pleased that “I can sing and dance and do many more things which many a younger man is unable to do.”
Thousands of young Malaysians have been inspired to do their country proud through sport and music, bettering themselves through disciplined training and transparently showing us their skills. Let’s hope the nation’s future political leaders have the same values at heart.
Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is a Committee Member of the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia and Patron of the Euroasia Association of Performing Arts