Friday, December 31, 2010

Top of my list 2010 - Controversy of the Year

Well, sad year for me as a Manchester United & Selangor fan. All both won were the minor honours - United the English League Cup and Selangor, just the MSL title.
Let's just have a a look back on what 2010 offered, beginning with this first installment.


Enjoyed a great start to the year here in Malaysia when the Lotus Racing team made their debut in Formula One. In the final three months of the year, that became a sticky issue with Malaysians at the centrestage of one of the most incomprehensible controversies in the history of F1.

It started off just fine, Lotus Racing operated by 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Berhad the holding company, with AirAsia entrepreneur Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes at the helm, emerging as the first Malaysian Formula One team.

National carmakers Proton, who own the British sportscar company Group Lotus Plc., were in agreement and allowed the team to run as Lotus Racing under licence. Proton even came up with a limited edition Proton Satria Neo Lotus Racing.

Then, somewhere in September, during the Singapore Grand Prix, this controversy unfolded, where Fernandes and gang bought over Team Lotus Ventures, the company that owns the Team Lotus brand, which operated as a separate entity from the car business, running the F1 and motorsport side of the business.
Proton were against this and all hell broke loose.
Group Lotus then announced they were going into GP2 with the French ART Grand Prix, with an entity to be known as Lotus-ART, while Fernandes announced the entry of Team AirAsia into the same series.
Group Lotus then announced an elaborate motorsport programme that included an engine supply deal for the Indycar series from 2012 and then stunningly confirmed their acquisition of a 25% stake in the RenaultF1 Team, for whom they will act as title sponsors from 2011. The team was renamed Lotus-Renault GP.

And to spark more fury in the evolving battle, Group Lotus presented a rendition of their 2011 car, which was clad in black and gold, a colour scheme that the Lotus Racing team had announced a month earlier they would be adopting from 2011 onwards.

So, there will be two teams running with the Lotus name in the coming F1 season - Fernandes' Team Lotus which will be using Renault engines and the Group Lotus-sponsored Lotus-Renault GP team, which obviously will be using similar engines as well.

While Proton and Group Lotus dispute the other's right to use the name Lotus in Formula One, this is now up for battle in the London High Court. There is also talk in the fraternity of Fernandes' Team Lotus considering a name change even before the court decides.

To make matters worse, many in Malaysia were confused further by inaccurate claims by many parties that the country should be proud in having THREE Formula One teams. There are no THREE Malaysian teams in F1. There's just ONE.
Let's correct this once and for all. There will, in 2011, be four teams with significant Malaysian involvement:
1) MercedesGP-Petronas: Which is the evolution of the BrawnGP team that ran in 2009, that came out of the BAR-Honda and Honda F1 teams. It is effectively a German team, which has the Malaysian oil company Petronas as a main sponsor.
2) Lotus-Renault GP: Which is the French RenaultF1 Team of previous years, now with the Malaysian-owned British company Group Lotus as a title sponsor. It is still a French team.
3) Marussia Virgin Racing: A British team owned by entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, which has Russian sportscar manufacturer Marussia as title sponsor from 2011, while Malaysian company Qnet, a subsidiary of tycoon Datuk Vijay Eswaran's Qi Group, will be prominently displayed on the sidepods of their cars.
4) Team Lotus: The team run by 1Malaysia Racing Team Sdn Berhad, which could yet have a name change to something else prior to the start of the 2011 season. In all earnest, this is the only team that is registered as Malaysian and will have the Negaraku playing in honour of the constructors, should they win a race.

Malaysians nevertheless, did gain one thing in Formula One in 2010. Notoriety.

Sad, sad Indonesian mentality

From the burning of the Jalur Gemilang, to constant taunting online and in the press, some Indonesians just failed to accept that they were well and truly defeated in the AFF Suzuki Cup final, though there are voices in that country issuing calls that are more mature in nature, urging them to look forward and take the positives from this tournament.
Some Indonesian newspapers alleged everything from the use of 'bomohs' (witch doctors) by the Malaysians to lasers beamed by Malaysian fans on their players as reasons for the defeat. Their fans went a step further by hacking the FA of Malaysia website.

Courtesy of Absports Sukan facebook photos.

Ok, look at the match highlights below. Do note that Indonesia chose none other than captain Firman Utina to take and miss a penalty in the first half; their naturalised striker Christian Gonzales missed a point-blank header with an open goal at his mercy and the best shots on goal came from the Malaysians, who didn't have to be pressured to do so as they were 3-0 up from the first leg. Indonesia merely scrambled home two goals late in the second half to lose 2-4 on aggregate.

But what wasn't surprising, although Malaysia's coach K. Rajagobal chose to refute it, was Indonesia's Austrian coach Alfred Riedl's claims that 'the better team lost' as quoted by JAKARTA GLOBE HERE.
You just need to rewind the clock to January 2007, when Riedl was in charge of Vietnam, who lost the first leg of the 2006 semi-final 2-0 to Thailand. The Austrian said the same thing HERE - apparently the better team lost on that occasion too.

Well, we wouldn't call Indonesia rivals for nothing.
What we should look at maintaining is the fire that came from the stands. At long last, the fans were back in full force behind the football team that brought so much pain and anguish in the past 20 years. Just look at them. This is Malaysia. Like it or not, Indonesia.

*Pic courtesy of Wan Botak

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Well, at least one job done..

There needed to be some results and in the space of 12 months, the national under-23 and senior football team provided two.
The under-23s won the Sea Games gold for the first time since 1989 in Laos last December and with the nucleus of that team forming the senior squad, last night they won the AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time ever.
It is a great moment for fans in the country, who've longed for their dose of success for so long. But let's not get carried away.
AFF Suzuki Cup means best among 11 South East Asian nations that form the Asean Football Federation. The highest ranked nation from this region in the FIFA world rankings prior to the AFF Suzuki Cup were Thailand at 121st. Indonesia were 127th, Vietnam 137th, Singapore 140th and Malaysia 144th.
Malaysia may move up a few rungs after this, but the reality is, none of the 11 countries that make up the AFF even qualified among the 16 teams that will compete for the Asian Cup in Qatar next year. That where the level of the AFF Suzuki Cup is.
So, let's not get carried away. There's a long way to go, nothing to really be proud of yet apart from having outdone perennial rivals Indonesia and Singapore.
Done with football for now. It was good to at least see a winning Malaysian team. Long time since I've had the pleasure of that.
Congrats K. Rajagobal, who I'm sure is in line for a Datukship at least, and his band of fighters. I like what I saw, but as I said, much more to be done, a lot more we haven't achieved.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In this little, insignificant corner of the planet, world no. 127 vs no. 144, is a matter of life and death

JULIA Perez, summarised, is Indonesia's answer to everything from Mary Carey to Larissa Riquelme, or at least she tries her very best to pick up where those headline-makers left off.

She's this controversial bombshell famed for having an affair with an Argentine footballer playing in the Liga Indonesia, while still married to a Frenchman. She's dumped her French husband from whom she gained her current surname, for footballer Gaston Castano, whom she is due to marry.
As a singer she will be remembered for providing free condoms with every purchase of her widely banned controversial album Jupe.
Taking after American pornstar Marey Carey, who once contested the governership of California, Julia, 30, is herself currently a political candidate at her home regency of Pacitan in East Java (Jatim), and many areas of sexual awareness are things high on her campaign strategy.
Not to be outdone by Paraguayan hottie Larissa Riquelme, one of my personal favourites who pledged to pose nude if Paraguay won the World Cup earlier this year, Julia has made headlines ahead of the AFF Suzuki Cup final second leg in which she has pledged a counter-attack on the Malaysian squad by wearing a bra which flashes out laser rays, which she hopes will distract the Malaysian players who enter the second leg at the Gelora Bung Karno 3-0 up after the first leg in Bukit Jalil on Sunday. READ IT HERE (BAHASA INDONESIA).

Down 3-0 and to much furore over laser beams flashed at the now outspoken and much criticised Indonesian goalkeeper Markus Harison Rihihina, the Indonesians seem to be coming up with all sorts of plans, including one that is yet to be confirmed, which is the purported use of anti-laser eye wear in the second leg at Gelora Bung Karno tonight.

But Malaysia's Berita Harian and Harian Metro yesterday came up with proof that the laser beams started at the Bung Karno in Jakarta when Malaysia were on the receiving end of a 5-1 thrashing from Indonesia in their preliminary round group match on Dec 1.

Second choice keeper Sharbinee Allawee Ramli, who let in the five goals on Dec 1, was pictured with a spot of green of the right side of his face. Reports suggested that he did not blame the lasers as the reason he let in those five goals.

Well, we might as well bring that up since Indonesian tabloid Nonstop came up with THIS piece of propaganda, claiming Malaysia had used witch doctors to cast a spell on their players resulting in the 3-0 first leg win.

The Indonesian propaganda doesn't end there. This doctored image of Malaysian coach K. Rajagobal, apparently with some bombshell who the culprits allege is his new mistress, has been circulating on mobile phones.

What was seemingly mere regional rivalry, insignificant to the rest of the world, has now also been taken to the next level with Prime Ministers on either side of this brotherhood of nations taking a keen interest in it. And playing it's little part to add fuel to the fire is non other than the BBC!

What's certain is that this 11-nation tournament has this year made some others take notice.

This is the World Cup for the 11 little nations nestled in this pretty corner of the universe. Beyond the likes of Julia, this is the match that's on everybody's lips in every corner of the Nusantara.
It is in all earnest a match between Indonesia, who are currently at 127th in the FIFA world rankings against Malaysia, who are 144th. If you're focused on Julia, those figures wouldn't even matter, because it sure doesn't to Julia.
Between the two, just one World Cup qualification has happened, to Indonesia who entered the 1938 World Cup, then as the Dutch East Indies. Neither of the two has even come close since.
Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia are even among the 16 teams that will compete in the Asian Cup in Qatar next year, and Julia doesn't give a damn about that either. She just wants to flash lasers from her bra!

Thus we come to the most significant achievement that can be gained from all the fanfare surrounding tonight's events - that neither have ever even won this cup to emerge the best among these 11 nations that make up ASEAN. And tonight, one will put an end to at least that statistic.

It doesn't make sense when you try to figure out how a region that's made of predominantly fans that are so engrossed in their attachment to EPL clubs, can suddenly be so switched on by a tournament of a level that seems light years away from what they're used to watching on TV.

It is patriotism. And the one significant gesture the fans have made during the course of this AFF Suzuki Cup, is the fact that all the commercialised flavour and additives showered upon them via so many outlets by those who are selling the EPL globally, has not totally taken away their desire to see heroes of their own flourish.

There still is that fire, the desire to see their countries move forward. But where do we go from here? That's the question.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Long time no see... And it's about pyrotechnics.

Well, the time I've spent not updating this blog out of my own displeasure with doing it, is nothing compared to the length of the wait Malaysia has had before we could feel a little sense of pride in our football team.
A long way from the embarassing 5-1 group stage defeat to Indonesia coach K. Rajagobal's men have come and if the 2-0 aggregate semi-final win over Vietnam, courtesy of both goals scored in the first leg at home, wasn't enough, the team is now 3-0 up against the same Indonesia team who handed them that thrashing just two weeks ago, after the eye-popping first leg of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup final at the National Stadium on Sunday.

I made my way to the stadium via LRT that evening, and was in for a surprise. Never in my life of following both my home team Selangor and the national team, had I been amidst a crowd of this magnitude. It was a crawl to get near the stadium gates and when we were inside, this was shortly before kick-off at 8pm, we found no way into the seating areas via any of the 20 or so access tunnels we tried on all tiers.
The National Stadium was overflowing with humans. There must have been much more than the 100,000 capacity crowd, because still outside the stadium were thousands more.
We walked all the way into the zone where the Indonesian fans were seated behind the scoreboard and barely found a spot on a staircase where we could catch the whole view of the pitch, our palms sweating in anxiety and heads filled with worry, surrounded by the enemy. Even this, was done during half time when some of the crowd had left the comforts of their vantage points to release or replenish bodily fluids.
Of course the highlights of the night, apart from the three cool goals, were the pyrotechnics display from the fans. The Malaysians have taken a note of Ultras in Serie A, the Turkish league and other football mad countries and come up with a display of their own.
Only problem was that on more than one occasion, the regular missiles in the form of mineral water bottles and half eaten packets of food that were thrown in the direction of the pitch, were accompanied by fireworks and laser beams on the faces of players.

The Sports Minister wasn't happy and said THIS.

Now pyrotechnics are seen as the baddest thing to hit Malaysian football, by the politicians at least. And the fans are doing themselves no good by letting these shows spill onto the pitch and affect play.

But the administrators and police have failed in their bid to stop this from happening, so miserably that the Ultras have now graduated from simple to more elaborate fireworks and proudly hold aloft flares in celebration without fear of authority.

One thing's certain. Some day when Malaysia is losing and playing badly, some of those flares are coming down the way of the pitch. And 11 laser beams are going to shine on each opposition player, not just their goalkeeper. Maybe they'll even have three extra beams for the referee and his two assistants.

What the authorities fail to realise, despite all the media space they get to voice their displeasure of the acts of fans, is that the way things are going the likelihood of them winning this battle is similar to narcotics being totally wiped out of the country. It is virtually impossible.

But unlike their battles against the druglords, this is one battle in which they won't exactly be doing their own cause any harm by offering a hand in peace and begin negotiations towards an amicable solution. Years of FRU abuse on fans has already resulted in the police being seen somewhat as part of the enemy by most football fans. Hence the rebellion.

The authorities will not win this battle to eradicate pyrotechnics from Malaysia's football stadia simply because with the national team on a rise, and as seen in the past year, attendances will most certainly multiply. Crowds will be beyond control.

This is a good example to explain what I mean:
Amidst a crowd of over 100,000 and with hundreds of various pyrotechnic devices set off during the course of Sunday's match, they merely arrested five alleged culprits, as reported HERE. Well, the report says the five were arrested for "various offences including climbing the stadium wall, throwing bottles, having firecrackers and lighting flares."
Climbing wall, throwing bottles, having firecrackers and lighting flares, that's four offences - so one each I guess. And the report continues to state that some were arrested for being drunk and obstructing the police from carrying out their duties. That surely means the other one did that.
I swear, I must have heard or seen more than 100 firecrackers going off in different areas of the stadium, and they arrested one for mere possession. Thousands of water bottles showered the surroundings of the pitch from all around the stadium, and they caught one culprit for throwing bottles. I saw more than 20 flares being lit at different spots throughout the stadium all throughout the match, there could have easily been more, and they caught one culprit. Pictures appeared in some media of both Indonesian and Malaysian fans, hundreds of them climbing both walls and fences, and they caught one too.
One I did not manage to see was that drunk guy obstructing the police, so congratulations to them for that rare catch.

As attendances build up, so will the passion of the fans. And these are Malaysian football fans from a new generation. This is a generation from which the majority weren't even born the last time Malaysia tasted a worthwhile success on the international stage.
They've been waiting all their lives for the national team to hit the vein of form that they're in now. You simply cannot stop their passion from boiling over, whichever way they choose to express it. So, do not turn them into rebels, who eventually develop into destructive hooligans nobody can control. They need to be engaged to help the cause of the national team.

One thing these Ultras can do is turn the National Stadium into a cauldron of fear for opposing teams. The noise they create, the fire from the stands as visible on Sunday will send more than a shiver down the spines of anyone who is against their team. It could be hell for visiting teams. Wouldn't this help the national team when playing vital home-and-away fixtures in qualifying rounds for the World Cup, Olympics and Asian Cup?

Many of the fans I've spoken to actually look forward to going to football matches these days simply because, apart from the football, they enjoy the pyrotechnics and the surprises.

Look around the world and you will find pyrotechnics a part of football culture, well most places apart from the over-civilised and over-commercialised EPL of course.

What the fans should be discouraged from is the throwing of missiles, beaming of lasers and monkey-like behaviour. This can be easily controlled.

My suggestion is, let's get the authorities to sit down with the fan clubs, get everything organised. Of course some people will have to do some extra work. But hey, this can be exciting.
Designate a section of the stadium for the Ultras. Get them to organise a fan-based pyrotechnics show within allocated times before the match, during half-time and after the match. Let them light as many flares as they want, set-off as many fireworks as they want, in that designated area, during that designated time. Heck, get it all choreographed to give it an artistic touch!
Then you can get all those who want to do these things in one corner, without endangering the players or other fans. Because you have them all in one designated area, you can then have some level of control over these "pyro-artists".
They should only be discouraged from throwing anything towards the pitch. Doesn't that make your job easier you cops??

At the end of the day, everybody wins. The fans get to have a good time, those who want to can put on a show without having to become criminals, the stadiums are full, the national teams has fearful opponents and football gains from it all.

Let's be more open-minded about the whole thing. That's all.

Or look at this video as a warning sign...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You make it real...

We're dreaming no more alright...

I couldn't believe my ears when I heard about them. Even thought of it as a joke, or destined to be one.
But the pictures say it all and the moment I saw it before my eyes at the Royal Horticultural Hall in London last Friday (Feb 10), this James Morrison song kept strumming in my head.

I began covering F1 at the tailend of Alex Yoong's shortlived career and had been longing for something to shout about ever since. Then this Lotus Racing bit came into the picture. I just said it's too good to be true.
But I'd be damned if I said there wasn't one bit of emotion flowing through me that Friday, especially since friend and long time subject of my writing Fairuz Fauzy was decked in the overalls that said he was part of this latest F1 team. Test driver or not, he's in at last. And this is no half-baked test deal like he had with Spyker in 2007, it is the real deal.

Yeah, it feels good alright. So, emotions done and over with, let's see them do it when the season starts. This is, after all, a beautiful song...

Keep it real, but please... Don't screw it up!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

How deep is my love?

I must say it took some time before I really understood cycling. But when I did, it was eternal love. Still is and I'd like for it to always be that way.
It was so simple when there was nothing to shout about. The same as you'd probably have in a relationship. As the writer, I'd only watched and tried to do what I could to stop the sport from being raped beyond recognition.
Malaysian cycling was, we must not forget, in the doldrums just half a decade ago.
This heart cried when in the early days of my career, I'd had to listen to stories of riders being stopped from riding simply because they entered a race they weren't supposed to. That when it was one of two credible mountain bike events in the country that year.
From unthinkable bans, to ridiculous sanction fees that deterred the sport from growing, right up to overly constant bickering and politicking within the sport, it all proved just why everything remained stagnant.
Then came the positive notes sung by a brave Ng Yong Li, who packed his bags, funded mainly by his family, and headed off to Spain in 2005, seeking to become Malaysia's first ever professional rider in Europe.
Tears flowed down my cheeks as his old coach Lee Yok Lian and myself followed the 2005 Under-23 World Championships in Madrid, through live radio feed over on The Eurosport channel wasn't available yet.
His name and his country were mentioned just two times. It was even in the live text feed on the same website. We cheered and hugged each other over here simply because I believe, we were some of the few who'd really understood the gravity of what had just happened.
Here was a young kid from Batu Pahat. Just 19-years old. And he'd dodged the politics, got himself to Europe and became the first ever Malaysian to ride in the UCI Road World Championships. If you love cycling, this would have meant so much to you as a Malaysian back then.
Yong Li finished 75th in the individual time trial and 122nd in the road race, in which finishing in itself, while riding alone without teammates, was a monumental achievement. No Malaysian in the years that followed had managed to finish the road race.
Two years later, Yong Li achieved what he set out to do. He became the first ever Malaysian to sign as a professional with Portuguese team Vitoria-ASC.
But this wasn't actually well received back home. It was as if Yong Li was a tyrant, charting his own fortunes. As a result, he was always reluctantly called up for national duty.
It is in the same vein that some brought up some ridiculous issues about the recent RM2 million injection from Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) for the formation of the first Malaysian track trade team.
I'd expected everyone to be happy that finally there is some real corporate sponsorship trickling down to the national cyclists. Not everyone was.
Immediately there were accusations that MNCF track committee chairman Datuk Naim Mohamad had wrangled a deal which would benefit himself.
Of course, none of the money would flow into MNCF's accounts. If I were Sime Darby, that would be the last thing I'd want to do. Read my comment in the NST HERE to see how this deal works.
Then came the press conference after Azizul Hasni Awang signed a sponsorship deal with 1st Endurance Malaysia, a nutritions supplier, on Tuesday (Feb 2). Of all thing MNCF president Abu Samah Wahab could have chosen to say, he chose to take a poke at the YSD trade team.
He called for them to adhere to his call for early registration since the deadline to get the team registered with the UCI in time for the new season was March 30. He also made other remarks about the team's set-up, as if indicating that the team had 'stolen' national riders, while of course thanking YSD for pumping in the funds.
In actual fact, this was a team comprising elite riders, to cater for the need to have more Malaysians riding in the UCI World Cup legs, since on national team tickets there are limited slot. An additional team automatically doubles the slots for Malaysians in World Cup legs. Thus more Malaysians could ride in World Cup legs.
Why did he have to raise this as an issue? Wasn't he just finding dirty linen to wash in public? The deadline is more than a month away, for heaven's sake. Wouldn't any publicity on this make it seem that those running the YSD programme needed a telling? Wouldn't this be simply bad publicity, when there was no reason for it to be?
It is this sort of drama that I truly find hard to understand.
Everything from Le Tour de Langkawi to track cycling is being prostituted as political game. It is sickening sometimes. Thus I choose not to listen more often these days, even while my heart is dying to know.
It is hard to stay in love, but I will. Because I'm in love with a beautiful thing - cycling.
But over and over again, the depth of my love is being put to the test. It makes me question myself about whether I'm in love with the right thing.
Well, there's little else to look forward to in this life, thus I guess this love has to be eternal. And I'll have to bear living with the beaten up prostitute that Malaysian cycling is. Because I love it.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Champions at last... But it wasn't just about the hockey.

It should be about perseverance paying off, but what transpired in the NPC-Milo Inter-Media 9-a-Side Hockey & Netball Championships 2010 at Kelab Aman on Jan 23 made me think again.
Well it could be because our NST "A" team, which I led, emerged champions in hockey. It tasted so sweet that we're still talking about it in the office. It ended my personal nine-year wait since I joined the NST, to win something in any inter-media tournament, and in any sport.
Futsal is the sport most actively played in our company, NSTP, ever since we've had that court up on the rooftop. But the editorial team I represent had began as whipping boys. In the early years, it was hard to lift our spirits to wake up in the mornings and go to tournaments simply because we knew we'd be knocked out in the first round. And we were usually right.
In the inter-department 9-a-side football competition, we were just there for the fun of it all. We couldn't even begin to think of sending a team for inter-media tournaments.
But we began to pull our socks up about three years ago. I needed to shed weight and get really active myself, after allowing myself to be consumed by the job since i joined and never really bothered to go out and play for about six years. As a result, I'd become fat beyond my imagination and so unfit that the beginning was very painful.
When the company provided a gym at the office, my first treadmill session lasted just 10 minutes and I was huffing and puffing like a hungry monster. This definitely was not the kid who never had a problem jogging 10 laps or more around the school football field. This man weighed almost a hundred kilos, when his optimum weight is 71.
Well, getting active again was the easy part because I was used to it. In school we played everything. Football, hockey, badminton, tennis, sepak takraw, table tennis, handball, volleyball, basketball, simply everything there was to play.
My dad was my hockey mentor and also my opponent in squash, badminton and tennis. My mom was a hockey player too, so she loved it so much when I played that both of them would stop by the school to watch our morning training sessions before they went to work when I was in primary school.
And once I got active again, it just simply never stopped. I found the energy to do more and more and more. Life just turned exciting, even if I'm living it alone.
I shuffled between work and play so happily. I just couldn't stop this party. I wanted to climb every mountain, ride every road, beat every opponent. I keep wanting to do more. I want to get everybody to join the party.. hahaha..
Things started looking better in all the tournaments we played. In futsal, these days we at least make it past the first round in any inter-media or inter-department tournament. In hockey, last year we merely missed out on a spot in the final on penalty strokes against the eventual champions.
It was also no problem working on the organising committee for the Jan 23 tournament with a really good team, while getting the NST hockey and netball teams, as well as the NPC netball team organised for it, then play in the tournament too.
I'm telling you, that win in the final against the NST "B" team which comprised all the stars of our NSTP Inter-Department hockey tournament showed me that it pays to get your heart-rate up and keep yourself active.
Of course, the team did it, not me alone. But I wouldn't have been half as good a contribution to the team as their goalkeeper, if I'd not gone back to my old ways three years ago.
These days, I leave a competition not thinking about going home, but about when and what we're playing next. I'm no pro athlete, but I sure am enjoying this life.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Let it rip!

I must say I've usually been quite impressed by the enthusiasm shown by some of the women folk at the New Straits Times when it comes to sport.
Just over a year ago, we got some of them to put on their futsal shoes and take on the best of the media world in the NPC Inter-Media Futsal Championships in 2008. They actually comitted to a month-long training regime under makeshift coach Nelson Fernandez @ Ridzwan Abdullah. My colleague Nelson's tactical know-how, I must also say, is not by any means sub-standard, as he molded that team into eventual champions.
You won't imagine how it felt to have coaxed the likes of Regina Lee and Evangeline Majawat to actually buy pairs of futsal shoes for the first time in their lives and then watch them lift the trophy, beating the likes of the seasoned Harian Metro girls, who had at that time competed regularly in inter-media and open competitions. Not only that, we had Sharifah Omar emerge top scorer and Jasmine Shadique the player of the tournament.
This time, we start of the NPC Inter-Media Games with the 9-a-side Hockey and Netball Championships at Kelab Aman on Saturday (Jan 23). It was former NPC president and current advisor Mokhtar Hussain's idea to hold the two sports simultaneously at the same venue, so as to create a carnival atmosphere. Well, I usually have a lot of trouble saying no to Mokhtar. So, off the ground this plan got and we're just days away from making it a reality.
It has been again, a big headache trying to get these women to just commit to representing the company. So many turned me down.
I only managed to secure the commitment of a core group of some of the newer staff like Natasha Ilyas and Halimatul Saadiah. Thank God, Sharifah Arfah who is from the same batch that entered NST through the great PETS 11 bunch of 2001, was on the same wavelength as I was and just as excited about this whole thing.
Just four turned up for the team's first training session yesterday evening. Incredibly, our receptionist Sumathi, who was so living in denial, actually came to watch, then decided to change into sporting attire and join in the fun. At the end of the session, I think she was pumped up about being in the competition.
It was so much like that 'old' futsal team, that were a bunch of naysayers at first, but then turned out to be the most disciplined, most enthusiastic, most excited bunch once the action started. Can you imagine, I actually dragged Halimah to the sports shop in Lucky Garden and forced her to buy a new set when she said she forgot to bring her attire!
Here she is in the brand new kit!

Sharifah (Omar) took charge of the training session which saw both the NST "A" and NST "B" teams together for the first time. Well, most of them at least. Natasha proved to be more than a handful inside the semi-circle and the rest of the team promised to show up training the next day.
This is mad. They just have two days. But I guess, enthusiasm could prove a vital element in ensuring this turns out to be a success for NST.
As for the hockey team, their goalkeeper is caught up with organising duties and was spotted recording the netball team on video. The first plan is for everybody to just show up on time at Kelab Aman on Saturday. We'll take it from there.
In any case, if you've got too much free time with nothing more interesting to do on Saturday, do show up at Kelab Aman in Ampang. I'm sure you'll at least be entertained. If your not too particular about the standards of hockey and netball.

Majulah Sukan Untuk Negara!!

Monday, January 11, 2010

This GANG will be together forever

Well, complete with an exco line-up led by the first Datuk in our clan, a group of old buddies of mine got together and formed what, scary as it may seem, they wished to call the Gang of Subang (GoS).
We've even got a website HERE.
In keeping up with the hectic runabout (not exactly jet-set) type of life as a budding sports writer, I sort of veered off course the past nine years or so and forgot the joys of having this bunch alongside me as we faced everything life threw at us growing up together in Subang Jaya.
Reconnecting with the clan was good. It began about two months ago. Anis Syahrein, Jeffree Shahrizal, Muzaffar Muhammad, Saiful Azmi Khalid and Azhar Halim all have the same faces as those 10-year olds I first got to know.
Thanks to information from best buddy Azlin Mazhar, that tea session in SS15 I joined in October immediately reminded me of the days we'd meet every morning for hockey training, after which we'd agree with the likes of R. Letchumanan and Shamsul Azeri to head for the then still popular Taman Subang Ria watersports centre, where we'd go canoeing and stuff like that.
Jeffree, who was very popular with the girls, was also a legend as early as when we were in Standard Five, as some of us witnessed him creating history with his hands. I shall stop at that.
When we had football training, the likes of future stars such as Asmawi Bakiri would come over to my home to shower before we went to school in the afternoon when we were in Standard Six. So you imagine the pride in all of us when he walked up to collect his first Malaysia Cup winners medal in 1997, playing for OUR team Selangor, who beat Pahang 1-0 through a dramatic extra-time goal kneed in from the brink of going out by David Mitchell.
Each and every day of our childhood was an adventure. And we were a mischievous bunch.
The holy month of Ramadhan would bring us all out at night. Back then Subang Jaya was a peaceful neighbourhood, unlike the madness it symbolises today. Roads were so clear, you might even have considered the place rural. We could ride our bicycles all over town, without our parents even having the slightest fear in allowing us to do so.
Well, if only they knew what we were up to. I'm sure all would remember those police-and-thief games on bicycles that covered the whole of Subang Jaya, with one of the arched entries at the Masjid Darul Ehsan being the 'jail'. The 'thieves' would be riding like crazy with 'police' in hot pursuit. There were easily more than 30 of us involved in these nightly Ramadhan games. And if some thought they could disappear in the crowds at the pasar malam... Well, let's just say the havoc we created with 'thieves' frantically whizzing through crowds with 'police' on tow, helped the crowds at the pasar malams disappear.
The town was an enclave surrounded by oil palms, rubber trees and tin mines. Subang Jaya was an oasis. Our oasis. And who could forget that oasis in the middle of the oil palm estate that served as our river resort. Haha... We enjoyed many a splash there, I can tell you.
We would gather at the school padang each evening to play football, sometimes hockey, which were the favourite games of most of our clan. Lee How Seng, Jason Chua and Jason Tan would often be found at the SMSJ basketball court, a stone's throw away from my home. Walk down the road, I'd find the plump figure of Marcus Choy in his BBP14, the old Toyota Starlet he drove around when he was just 15. Fadhil Manan was a son of a policeman and also our classmate, so he was our contact in case we got into too much trouble.
Walk the other way any evening, you'd likely find Sheikh Shahril, Nazri Mokhtar, Ritesh Singh and the clan that lived closer to SRK Subang Jaya, charting mischief from the meeting point we all commonly termed as "Bridge".
You see, everywhere we turned, around every corner, we'd more than likely bump into friends. That was the close-knit community that Subang Jaya was in those days.
From the video games arcade age, to the age of the snooker parlours, then internet cafes, the tea dances at Picadilly, we went through it all together.
So, having so many of those faces I never forget all around me at the National Press Club for our reunion last Saturday (Jan 9), brought about this overwhelming feeling of pride in having so many who actually cared to come and at least look up each other although all have more than their hands full with crazy mind-boggling jobs, even crazier kids and the old spouse things. I'm just having the first of the three for now, thanks. But these friends, I want to keep.
A promise we made to each other was that we'd stay in touch. I think we meant forever.

Friday, January 8, 2010

LTdL 2010?

Been nosing around as usual.
Latest feedback from some contacts and some connections with the major teams in cycling say that Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) 2010, which is set to run under the organisation of the Ministry of Youth and Sports from March 1 to 7, will likely have its weakest field since the inaugural edition in 1996.
Worst of all is the absence of ever present Diquigiovanni-Androni Gioccatoli team of charismatic directeur sportif Gianni Savio. Savio has indicated that the defending champions, who won their second consecutive overall title through Jose Serpa last year, will not be coming as they haven't been paid their dues from 2008.
Without to date a single Pro Tour team having agreed to ride in this year's race, this already is a big slap in the face for Sports Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek and the main people behind the race this time around, namely Sports Ministry secretary general Datuk Mohd Yassin Salleh, his deputy Datuk Mohid Mohamed and their appointed head honcho Zulkifli Khalil.
But it isn't just that. The line-up for this year's race as it is, could see just Asian and Australian continental teams riding the race, apart from the South African national team.
This would likely also be the poorest field in the UCI hors categorie race (2.HC) anywhere in the world. So much for wanting to be part of the Pro Tour.
A little bird told me that even the Ukrainian-backed, Italian registered pro continental team ISD who are the only team to have had solid contact with the organisers over an appearance in the race, have not given their full commitment. This little bird, I hope for the sake of the race, could be wrong.
Thus, on the positive side, this would be the best chance for a Malaysian rider to achieve the first ever stage win by a local in the race. But whether it is as meaningful as it would have been when the field was from a field worthy of the 2.HC status of the race, will be up to you to decide.
I just continue to fail to understand why there is so much continued politicking in Malaysian cycling and everybody from the MNCF to the Ministry seems to have a hand in it. Together, as 1Malaysia, they continue to destroy it all.