With all that has been happening in the past couple of weeks and all the talk about cleaning up our politicians who are currently in power, I found myself ashamed of being a Malaysian on the night of 21st July 2011.
It was the night of the Chelsea vs. Malaysia football match. And no, I was not ashamed because we lost; as a matter of fact, I felt extremely proud of the way our national team performed against arguably one of the world’s most powerful football squads.
Instead, I found myself in a crowd of Malaysians who were jeering a Chelsea player simply because of his nationality. Yossi Benayoun, a Chelsea midfielder and captain of the Israeli national team, suffered jeers from the crowd almost every time he touched the ball.
It did not only set a bad atmosphere for the game but clearly affected the way he performed. It’s hard enough being a professional athlete playing in front of thousands of people, but to know that they also hated your guts must have been gut-wrenching.
It reached a point where I actually hoped that Benayoun would score against our very own national team just to silence the crowd. I felt almost heartbroken when he did not return to play in the second half.
As most of us should already know, Malaysia and Israel aren’t exactly on the best of terms. You can look at your passports if you do not believe me. We do not have any diplomatic ties with Israel and we embargo any economic activity with the country. However, to bring racism to a friendly match of football that was supposed to bring everybody together seems rather disappointing. What happened to sportsmanship?
First of all, whatever political or religious disaffections we have against Israel, we should note that Benayoun played no direct part in fostering such feelings other than the fact that he is Israeli. He is simply a football player who happened to be born in Israel. It is not like he was given a choice of where he would like to be given birth.
Secondly, as the word ‘friendly’ suggests, this game was intended to be a casual game between two professional sports teams with the primary purpose of entertaining the audience. Thus, Benayoun was part of the team of entertainers of the night, but we booed him for doing his job? Come on, he deserves far more respect than that.
Last but not least, if we as the rakyat of Malaysia intend on ever cleaning up our country’s image and government, we first have to start by adjusting our very own attitude. How are we to expect our leaders to be any better if we ourselves do not meet the standard we demand?
As the saying goes, a team is only as strong as its weakest link and in any given day, a country’s weakest link can be the rakyat. We laugh and insult the way our politicians behave and make headlines for all the wrong reasons but on that night, we stooped to their level.
It was us that gave our country a bad name to our guests (the Chelsea football team), the international media covering the game and most of all, ourselves. We were the only ones to blame and no one else.