06 September 2008

The Encyclopedia of Malaysia - Sports and Recreation

Almost a year ago, the Editions Didier Millet, the publishers of the Encyclopedia of Malaysia series contacted me to contribute an article on Silat Melayu to its Sports and Recreation volume.

It turned out to be a daunting task, because I was actually co-authoring the article with the great guru Anwar Wahab of Pertubuhan Seni Gayung Fatani and Ramzi Ramli, a lecturer from Universiti Malaya. In the end, the effort was worth it. My name is listed here among eminent authors, a privilege I hardly deserve.

But, if this is my only one contribution to Malaysia, and allows me to sit and tell my children and grandchildren about it 20 years later, so be it. This one is for you, Malaysia.

The following article is a review from NST Online.

This is Volume 15 of a colossal project that is The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, with the preceding 14 published in stages over the past decade.

The first five of these — The Environment, Plants, Animals, Early History and Architecture — were launched in 1998 by then Minister of Education Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Seas and Early Modern History followed in 2001; Performing Arts and Languages and Literature (2004); Religions and Beliefs (2005), Government and Politics (2006), Peoples and Traditions, The Economy and Crafts and the Visual Arts (2007).

With the Olympics magic still reverberating at the back of our minds, this book can be considered timely, the wealth of information on the local sporting scene literally at our fingertips.

Besides momentous events, one gets to read all about the nation’s leading sports persons, both on and off the track or arena.

At 184 pages, Sports and Recreation is the longest volume in the encyclopedia series, containing 86 topical articles presented in a visually stimulating format.

A high-quality work, it’s easy to heap praise on such an undertaking, its glossy pages making it, as the accompanying newsletter gushes, “a celebration of the spirit of sports”.

More than that, it’s a celebration of what it means to be Malaysian. There is the feeling of pride, of oneness and, yes, of Malaysia Boleh! when one reads of the myriad sporting achievements by our fellow citizens through the years.

Nostalgia is a given, especially for the older generation perusing the pages of their favourite sport. Many, I suspect, would sigh deeply with the memories of Malaysia’s heyday in soccer excellence.

Who can forget the late Mokhtar Dahari, our “Supermokh”, who once thrilled fans with his speed, thunderous kicks and unerring eye for goals? Then there was “Towkay” Soh Chin Aun, who impressed the whole nation with his commanding play as defender. And how about the heroes’ welcome for the team, led by captain M. Chandran, after their successful pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in 1971 Seoul? Priceless memories, these.

Hockey was another sport that generated much interest and patriotism. The drama at the 1975 World Cup, held in Kuala Lumpur, was truly unforgettable.

For two weeks, hockey gripped the nation, pushing politics from the front pages of newspapers. Malaysia dethroned defending champion Holland 2-1 in their last group match, with household names Poon Fook Loke and M. Mahendran providing much of the spark.

Alas, the team was beaten 3-2 to India but not without loads of drama as Malaysia led 2-1 with only a few minutes left!

These precious moments — when happiness swelled in us all or when despair took hold and made a nation depressed for days, or even when hope ignited optimism for a possible win — helped a nation break down racial boundaries.

Sports and Recreation, in its own way, helps to reinforce this ideal notion. It showcases diversity and offers a fascinating overview of a nation, one which is never racially biased.

For me, the bonus in this book are the write-ups on distinctively Malaysian traditional pastimes.

From top-spinning (and their contest spin-offs such as gasing uri and gasing pangkah) to kite-flying (festivals, contests and the attendant harvesting seasons), silat and even recreational activities enjoyed by the Orang Asli, there are lots to hold one’s interest in the book.

Of course, those loved and played by the major races — for instance, congkak, mahjong, qigong, uri adithal and kabaddi (no prizes for guessing their ethnic affiliations) — are not forgotten.

Written by a team of 74 — comprising athletes, coaches, sports leaders, administrators, academics and sports journalists — Sports and Recreation is a wealth of visual material.

Archival and contemporary photographs, specially commissioned artwork, maps and diagrams bring to life the country’s sporting culture.

The history of each sport and activity is chronicled, focusing on its introduction to the local scene and the key individuals and events that have shaped its evolution.

As for the specifics, more than 70 different topics — comprising team sports, racquet sports, precision sports, athletics, equine sports, water sports, contact sports, adventure and extreme sports, strength and movement sports, paralympic sports and even mind games — are featured.

The development of sports institutions and infrastructure are also discussed, as are the roles of prominent sports leaders as well as the major sporting events organised in the country. This is an excellent addition to The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, probably the largest reference work on the country ever undertaken.

If anything, Sports and Recreation reminds us of our past sports glory and, better yet, will inspire our sportsmen to greater heights.

Written by Fong Leong Ming
Sourced from

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