Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Foreign help...

The National Sports Council (NSC) is toying with the idea of naturalising more foreigners to help our sporting cause.

Read here.

NSC, over the years, have enlisted Irina Maharani, or formerly known as Irina Kotcherova (shooting), Yuan Yufang (race walk) and Hidayat Hamidon (weightlifting). Hidayat won the 69kg gold in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur before going missing and then making a comeback in Manchester 2002.

Yufang participated in her third Olympics in Beijing recently, while Irina is now a coach.

To a certain extent I agree.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Juicy stuff

Check out the juicy stuff in today's The New Straits Times and Berita Harian, here and here

Friday, August 22, 2008

Datuk or Wira?

In my column in Kosmo! last week, I predicted Lee Chong Wei will be awarded Datukship as the Penang Government wants to score points as well.

Historian Prof Datuk Dr Khoo Kay Kim is not in favour of bestowing the Datukship to athletes. He suggested a different honorific, like Wira for instance. Imagine addressing Chong Wei and Nicol David as Wira Chong Wei and Wirawati Nicol.

I tend to agree with Prof Kay Kim.

Read his take in Harian Metro here

Also read Sin Chew Daily's sharp observation on Chong Wei's new-found status here

Monday, August 18, 2008

The unpredictable flight of the shuttlecock

I'm posting this entry on Aug 18, 2008, a day after our shuttler Lee Chong Wei's quest for the elusive Olympic gold medal was smashed to smithereens by the darling of the crowd who covered the court like a man possessed.

There are of course a number of theories and analysis behind Chong Wei's defeat. The cynics among us claimed he had made countless unforced errors in the final, making Lin Dan looked better than he actually was.

Others suggested nobody could have beaten Lin Dan on that night, not even when Prakash Padukone, Liem Swie King, Han Jian, Hariyanto Arbi, Poul Erik Hoyer Larsen, Yang Yang or Zhao Jianhua were at their elegant best! Lin Dan was that good, they said.

There were some who knew Lin Dan was more motivated than ever after his girlfriend Xie Xinfang succumbed to her older compatriot Zhang Ning in the women's singles final a day before.
Just for the record, Aug 17 2004, Chong Wei was beaten by Chen Hong in the second round in Athens. Misbun was quick to defend Chong Wei, by insisting that he was truly the nation's future flagbearer.

In the intervening years, Chong Wei certainly had proven Misbun right. I hope Chong Wei gets the chance of turning silver into gold in 2012.

In the meantime, badminton spared us the blushes yet again. It was the country's first medal after the 2000 and 2004 medal drought.

There are several issues that beg BA of Malaysia's immediate attention.

1. Should we split Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong who just a year ago were beating the daylights out of almost everybody?

2. Did BAM make a mistake in sending veteran pair Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah at the expense of the younger and hungrier pair of Fairuzizuan Tazari-Zakry Abd Latiff?

3. Can Rexy Mainaky be retained at all costs?

4. Will there be a shake-up in the coaching set-up?

Nadzmi and BAM were given a rollicking by Azalina Othman Said following the Tragedy in Goudi four years ago. Misbun's salary was deducted because Azalina's advisers thought he was not doing enough.

Expect changes to be made soon.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Bolt from the past

The century dash final last night was such a breeze for Jamaican speed demon Usain Bolt that I personally felt disappointed it paled in comparison to the 2004 final in Athens.

Sure the televised broadcasts over Astro or RTM offer you a flavoured glimpse into various aspects of the Games but there is still nothing like being there, being part of history, in the moment and in the flesh.

My most unforgettable moment in Athens was being there to enjoy the pre-race atmosphere. It was out of this world. It resembled the build-up to a classic heavyweight title fight with the eight finalists waving and gesturing to the capacity crowd who had been clapping, dancing and singing to the the rhythmic and soothing sound of the Sirtaki, the Greek folk classic made famous in the final scene of "Zorba the Greek".

How smart the organisers were. They blared the song, composed by Mikis Theodarakis, over the sound system. It built to a crescendo every few seconds as the crowd clapped along...I must confess it was electrifying and it gave me goosebumps each time my mind wanders back to the ancient city.

I love the song so much that I continued listening to the CD (bought at Carrefour across the Main Press Centre) on a daily basis for more than a year.

While I was soaking up the atmosphere, my fellow Malaysian adventurers were having their rendezvous with the then Sports Minister, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

I did not cut a lonely figure there, as I was swept by the emotions in the presence of my fellow spectators in our rendezvous with history.

For the record, Justin Gatlin shot off the blocks to win the race ahead of Francis Obikwelu and Maurice Greene in what was the closest ever 100m race in Olympics history!

Bolt was nowhere near the final then as he was plagued by injury and competed in the 200m. But I did meet him in a specially arranged press conference held by the Jamaican team outside Athens. That was where I got this CD (above)!

Samir's perfect debut

The English Premiership is taking a backseat as far as I'm concerned due to the Olympics in Beijing but while surfing channels just now, I had the good fortune of witnessing French international Samir Nasri's deftly struck goal for the Gunners against West Brom.

But to me Samir has to make the quantum leap if he is to be considered a key figure in Arsene Wenger's scheme of things.

If the Gunners think they have bought the new Zidane, they are sadly mistaken.

He is instead similar in many ways to Alain Giresse or Youri Djorkaeff, intelligent and nimble attacking midfielders who can play in the hole or on the flanks depending on the situation. Samir will do well if he can work towards emulating Djorkaeff in terms of overall contribution to the team, goalscoring rate and above all the swerving free-kicks.

But for sure Samir will improve under Wenger. Question is how fast and how much! By the way I applauded his through ball to Adebayor only for the Togolese to miss in the second half.

I'm no Arsenal fan but I appreciate their game. Also they have a French-speaking backfour, comprising three French and one Swiss player. In fact as many as seven French-speaking players were on the starting XI.

Terima kasih Kosmo!

Sejauh ini aku sudah menukilkan luahan hati dalam kolumku Garis Tepi sebanyak lima kali di akhbar Kosmo!

Terima kasih kepada pengarang sukannya Asan Ahmad, bekas wartawan Bernama, yang mempelawa aku dan memberi ruang kepada penulis yang tidak seberapanya ini untuk berkongsi pendapat dengan pembaca. Aku menulis mengenai Lee Chong Wei dan Misbun Sidek hari ini!

KITA harus memanjatkan kesyukuran berikutan kemenangan pakar perseorangan badminton negara, Lee Chong Wei, di Sukan Olimpik Beijing semalam.

Kemaraan anak jati Bukit Mertajam itu ke perlawanan akhir perseorangan lelaki tidak dapat disekat-sekat lagi bagi menjamin sekurang-kurangnya kontinjen 2008 ini membawa pulang satu pingat.

Dengan mengatasi si kidal dari Korea Selatan, Lee Hyun-il 21-18, 13-21, 21-13, Chong Wei sudah memastikan pingat keempat untuk Malaysia sepanjang penyertaan kontinjen negara ke temasya berprestij ini sejak tampil buat julung kali di Melbourne lebih lima dekad lalu.

Seteru ketat Chong Wei, Lin Dan, menjadi tembok penghalang kepada impian rakyat Malaysia agar penantian negara untuk mendakap pingat emas di dalam final esok.

Sekurang-kurangnya pingat perak beserta RM300,000 sebagai habuannya kini dalam genggaman Chong Wei.

Jika Lin Dan ditakluki di depan Tembok Besar, maka Chong Wei bakal menjadi jutawan segera dan atlit pertama menerima hadiah wang tunai RM1 juta mengikut Skim Hadiah Kemenangan Majlis Sukan Negara.

Individu yang menguntum senyum di sebalik tabir sudah tentu bekas juara kebangsaan, Misbun Sidek, yang kini membimbing Chong Wei.

Dari segi pencapaian selaku jurulatih, Misbun sudah melangkaui kejayaannya selaku seorang pemain yang berkarisma.

Lima tahun lalu, Misbun menyuluh laluan buat Muhammad Hafiz Hashim merangkul gelaran Seluruh England.

Kini apa saja yang berlaku dalam final esok, Misbun sudah menurunkan namanya dalam tinta sejarah.

Namun masih segar dalam ingatan penulis apabila Misbun dihalang oleh Jabatan Imigresen daripada meninggalkan KLIA dalam menuju ke Athens empat tahun lalu. Dia dilaporkan menghadapi masalah dengan pihak bank.

Kelam kabut dibuatnya kontinjen negara.

Adakah ini satu budaya yang menyokong kegiatan pembangunan sukan?

Adakah Misbun akan lari meninggalkan negara kita dan mencari suaka politik di Greece sehingga dia tidak diberi keizinan enam hari sebelum temasya di Athens disingkap tirainya?

Misi pasukan badminton sedikit sebanyak terjejas dengan insiden itu. Sebuah akhbar pula menyiarkan berita mengenai insiden itu di muka depan.

Bayangkanlah kedudukan Misbun ketika itu sebagai jurulatih untuk merangsang pemainnya supaya sentiasa di tahap tinggi.

Setiba di Athens, pemain perseorangan kendalian Misbun tersungkur satu persatu. Chong Wei tewas di tangan Chen Hong pada pusingan kedua.

Tidak lama selepas itu, Misbun mengadu kepada penulis mengenai masalahnya. Perbualan di perkampungan sukan di luar Athens itu berkisar sekitar jumlah jurulatih di Persatuan Badminton Malaysia (BAM) yang disifatkan jauh daripada memadai.

“Cuba you lihat kalau Sony Dwi Kuncoro mengesat peluhnya, Joko Suprianto menemaninya. Jika Taufik Hidayat menghadapi masalah, dia mengerling ke arah Mulyo Handoyo. Ini adalah kelaziman di Indonesia.

“Nisbah seorang jurulatih dengan pemain adalah 1:1. Seorang jurulatih boleh memberi sepenuh tumpuan kepada anak didiknya. Saya pula terpaksa memantau tiga hingga empat pemain sekali gus,” keluhnya.

Beberapa hari sebelum dia berlepas ke Beijing, penulis sempat bertemu Misbun di kediaman seorang sahabat.

Di sebalik riak wajahnya yang menampakkan kerisauan kerana isteri tercinta harus menjalani rawatan dialisis, Misbun cukup optimis.

“Persiapan kita kali ini banyak berbeza. Sekarang tiba masa Chong Wei menterjemahkan apa yang dipelajari dalam latihan kepada aksi di gelanggang. Dalam tempoh empat tahun banyak yang dipelajari.”

Chong Wei hanya selangkah daripada pingat emas pertama Olimpik dalam sejarah sukan negara.

Adakah Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang yang mengambil langkah populis menanugerahkan gelaran Datuk kepada Nicol David mengambil jalan yang sama dengan Chong Wei?

Sudah tentu. Bukan saja Chong Wei mahu “score points”, politikus pun tidak mahu ketinggalan! Berbeza dengan Misbun. Dia barangkali lebih selesa menemani isterinya untuk rawatan dialisis seterusnya.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

One dream

Johannians in the late 80s hated the sight and the mere mention of Mirnawan Nawawi's name. As the RMC leading hockey player, Mirnawan used to go on a scoring spree against SJI.

That aside, the boy from Malacca was a sight to behold with his mazy dribbling skills. Mirnawan was one of the reasons I frequented the Tun Razak Stadium in Jalan Duta those days, besides spewing obscenities at Arrifin Ghani's "missing" (not scoring) skills!

Mohamad Abdul Hadi's intelligent play, Nor Saiful Zaini Nasiruddin's pacey runs and Sarjit Singh's renowned scoops were also a drawcard for hockey lovers.

Mirnawan, or Boss to his friends, took part in three Olympic Games - the 1992 Barcelona edition, Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney 2000, when he wore the captain's armband.

Naturally he is saddened by the game's present state of affairs. A member of the Group 102 who signed a memorandum recently expressing their concerns over the future of hockey, Mirnawan and I were invited as panellists on TV1's live show called Satu Impian (One Dream) last Monday in conjunction with the ongoing Olympics in Beijing. The show is scheduled to end next week and is hosted by Zainal Abidin Rawop.

I never quite got the chance to cover hockey extensively, either with Berita Harian or Malay Mail. Hockey was a big sport covered by senior journalists such as Saodi Mat Atar and V. Ashok (Berita Harian) and Mustapha Kamaruddin (MM).

I remember any story quoting Mirnawan during his heyday would hit the BH backpages. Mirnawan was a real favourite of the sports editor then, Mohd Zian Johari, or Boss to his subordinates.

Zian said Mirnawan had an aura of his own, a charismatic figure in hockey. The fact that Zian is also from Malacca certainly played a part as well.

Before parting ways at Angkasapuri, Mirnawan told me he was into food business now. Days later I brought Intan, 'Akif and Anas to Seri Wangsa Seafood at 32, Jalan Wangsa Delima 11, Wangsa Link, Wangsa Maju. Try the seafood fried rice. It's good. Oh, Mirnawan asked me to include the phone number should I post an entry on his new found passion...03-4143 3341!

During the show, the producers arranged for a teleconference with MNCF president Haji Abu Samah Wahab and Azizul Hasni Awang from Beijing. I did ask Azizul about the prospect of taking on the world on the wooden track at Laoshan Velodrome, and he was quick to add the 250m in length was to his advantage. Let's hope he does well in the keirin on Saturday, after the team lost to the French in the team sprint today.

The following day, another ex-international appeared on the show. Syed Ahmad Abu Bakar, the Johor-born footballer whose goals earned Malaysia the ticket to the Munich Olympics in 1972, spoke frankly albeit in brief as he brought the viewers down memory lane.

When he underwent a heart bypass in 2003, the Malay Mail ran a story headlined Have a heart, FAM! That story, of course written by yours truly, incurred the wrath of the then FA of Malaysia general secretary, Datuk Dell Akbar Khan!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Expert in media

Perunding Pakar Media Sdn Bhd is one of numerous PR practicioners who advised former Sports Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said on how to deal with all the negative publicity surrounding her old Ministry.

This report is therefore intriguing. Click HERE

RM45 for a dossier

Check out Citizen Nades' revelation HERE

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Blogging in Beijing

Check out the pictures and stories
HERE and HERE right from the horses mouths! From Beijing!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blog for Group 102

The Group of 102 former hockey internationals have joined the blogsphere! For all sincere hockey lovers, express and share your thoughts HERE

Monday, August 11, 2008

The rise and fall of Amy...but now he's back

Amirul (fourth from right) posing for a picture with the then Sports Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein shortly after his golden debut in the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002. From left M. Effendi Razali, Abu Hanapah Ismail, Zulkepli Abu Samah (physiotherapist), YB Razali Ibrahim (now MP for Muar), Azahar Md Taib (Harian Metro), Malay Mail weightlifter, Datuk Hishammuddin (before his keris-wielding days) and his son, Fariz Hussein, Amirul, Faizal Baharom, Roslan Othman and Matin Guntali. The weightlifters from MM and HM were obviously looking for additional stuff the morning papers would not carry! That was a real weight of expectation!

I'm pleased to see weightlifter Amirul Hamizan Ibrahim or Amy to his family and friends, bouncing back after a two-year suspension due to a doping scandal.

The 26-year old Hercules from Kuala Rompin performed fairly well on his debut outing in the Olympics yesterday with a total lift of 265kg, shattering his previous national mark of 262.5kg set in Malacca in 2002.

He was put on a pedestal after a triple gold medal effort in the Manchester Commonwealth Games six years ago but suffered a mighty fall from grace with the doping suspension in 2005.

I was there at the MICC on July 30, 2002 to give an eyewitness account on the historic occasion. Not the doping one, the triple effort lah...

AFTER weightlifter Amirul Hamizan Ibrahim lifted a total of almost five times his body weight to grab all three gold medals in the 56kg category last night, his thoughts were with his father, Ibrahim Ismail.

A phone call to convey the good news to his family at Kampung Sepakat, in Rompin, however failed.

While Malaysian Weightlifting Federation (MWF) vice-president Ong Poh Eng had offered Amirul his mobile phone to call home, the lad had forgotten the number.

But even if he had remembered the digits by heart, Amirul would not be able to speak to Ibrahim, the first person the youngster would love to share his medals with.

Ibrahim who earns a living as a lorry driver to feed his seven kids, comes home only once a week, on weekends.

Thanks to his son's exploits thousands of miles away from Rompin, things will soon change. The old man will be able to look forward to a well-deserved rest along with his wife, Rosiah Tuan Mohammad.

Following his victory at the theatre-style Manchester International Convention Centre (MICC), Amirul stands to a receive a whopping RM240,000 under the National Sports Incentive Scheme (Shakam). That is excluding the extra ringgit for cracking three Games record as well.

"I want ayah to stay at home more often. I want him to have enough rest and spend more time with the family.

"With the money from the incentive scheme, I will finance my parents' trip to umrah (minor pilgrimage). Then I would have to persuade ayah to take things easy," Amirul, a graduate of the NSC's centre of excellence in Rompin, promised.

Yet the three gold medals, Malaysia's first in the Manchester Games and weightlifting's biggest haul since 1950, could have easily slipped from Amirul's grasp.

A technical error by the officials kept the 20-odd Malaysians at the venue, including National Sports Council (NSC) director-general, Datuk Wira Mazlan Ahmad and the contingent's general team manager, S. Jahendran, at the edge of their seats.

A mix-up between the announcer and the officials who were preparing the entry list caused Amirul's first lift in the snatch to be declared no lift as he did not appear at the platform within the time allowed.

Fortunately the matter was rectified and Amirul, who took up the sport as a 15-year old in 1996, was awarded another first attempt.

Desperate to avoid any technical errors which could smash his dreams into smithereens, Amirul jogged to the platform before going on to equal Mehmet Yagci's Games record of 107.5kg in his first attempt.

He went on to register 112.5kg and 115kg in the following attempts to take the first of three golds.

Weighing in at 55.85kg and disturbed by a shoulder injury picked up during training in Indonesia, Amirul displayed confidence and nerves of steel belying his 20-years to win the clean and jerk.

When his closest rivals from India, Thandava Muthu and Vickey Batta failed to muster the energy to match Amirul's second attempt at 140kg, the Malaysian decided to go for 145kg in his third attempt. And the Games record fell yet again for a combined total of 260kg, beating Arumugam Pandian's 245kg in 1998.

"I was not confident about the snatch but I thought I could win the clean and jerk. To win all three has surpassed my wildest dreams," said Amirul.

Amirul's victory was a form of consolation for coach Matin Guntali as well. The Sabahan came close to twice but he could only managed a silver and a bronze in 1994 and 1998 respectively.

Amirul's story shall not end here. His best remains 262.5kg in the recent National Championship in Malacca.

"Obviously my next target is the Athens Olympics."

For that, Amirul requires the Olympic Solidarity grant under the International Olympic
Council (IOC).

Till then, Amirul's next mission is to ensure his father stays at home.

A few days later I did a feature on him.

A NEW Malaysian star was uncovered in Manchester as a kampung boy who used to lift gas cylinders for fun enjoyed a dream debut by grabbing three gold medals in a city best known for its Theatre of Dreams.

As Manchester braces for the close to a two-week sporting extravaganza marked by a number of world class performances in the 17th Commonwealth Games, Malaysia's undoubted numero uno is weightlifter Amirul Hamizan Ibrahim, or Amy to his family members in Kampung Sepakat, Kuala Rompin.

If Amirul keeps his feet firmly on the ground, sticks to the script and not fluff his lines, the new Commonwealth champion could continue piling up the medals.

Observers and officials alike worry that Amirul, who picked up the sport in 1996, might let money and fame cloud his judgment.

His family background shall guarantee nothing untoward is going to happen. Instead, the down-to-earth attitude could lead to a medal-churning career.

Despite becoming only the fourth Malaysian ever to pick up a gold medal at the Games since 1950, Amirul shows a mixture of wisdom and disarming naivety which makes him hard to dislike.

Shortly after undergoing the dope test following his historic win at the theatre-style Manchester International Convention Centre (MICC), Amirul was given the opportunity to call up his parents.

Surprisingly in an era when the average 21-year old would be busy sending SMS and emails to just about everybody, Amirul could not remember the digits by heart.

Only when a Malaysian journalist offered Amirul his mobile phone a day later that the youngster managed to speak to his parents, Ibrahim Ismail and Rosiah Tuan Mohammad.

"I tried calling my parents from the public phones but I could not get through. Abah was very pleased, mak had gone to a nearby grocery shop. Abah told me that three journalists had gone to the house to speak with him."

A chunk of the RM240,000 he stands to receive under the National Sports Incentive Scheme (Shakam) would go to his parents.

For the past 30 years, Ibrahim, 51, has been struggling to make ends meet. Apart from transporting plywood nationwide as a lorry driver, Ibrahim does a bit of farming to feed his seven children.

Amirul's journey from Kuala Rompin to the industrial city famed for Manchester United and David Beckham's bending free-kicks has been a long and arduous one.

Amirul was not that interested in sports. But the sight of the weightlifters such as Abdul Rahman Ahmad lifting the barbells at the training centre in Rompin caught his attention. His family did not discourage him. They felt at least Amirul could kill time doing something that he liked.

In between the various local competitions, training stints at Bukit Jalil and the Games in Manchester, Amy spent a few months at Lampung in Indonesia, under the supervision of a weightlifting guru.

"I used to lift gas cylinders and my siblings just to show off what I had learned at the centre," said Amirul, referring to the National Sports Council (NSC)'s centre at Rompin.

"The Chinese coaches based in Rompin showed us the way. Of course without their guidance I would not be in Manchester."

In Lampung, he suffered a horrific injury when the barbell fell on his left hand. He feared the worst.

"There was no doctor to attend to him," revealed teammate Hidayat Hamidon. "Thankfully the coach was at hand to apply the bandage on Amirul's hand. It was awful but he is a strong lad."

"It was great to make a little piece of history not only for myself but for the sport as well," said Amirul after following in the footsteps of gold medallists Koh Eng Tong and Tho Fook Hong in Auckland'50 and Hidayat in KL'98.

In 2005, I wrote a different angle altogether!

IN 2002, Malaysia feted him like a king. Today the world has turned gloom for weightlifter Amirul Hamizan Ibrahim.

Amirul, who was triple gold medallist in the Manchester Commonwealth Games three years ago, will be denied a chance to defend his title in Melbourne next year after testing positive in an out of competition dope test by the National Sports Institute (ISN) in February.

Question is, did he do it knowingly or unknowingly.

Both his A and B urine samples - sent to the doping lab at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) - were found to be positive with traces of anabolic steroid.

Attempts to speak to Amirul proved futile.

The son of a lorry driver is believed to be back at Kuala Rompin, near the scenes where he first nurtured his passion for weightlifting by lifting gas cylinders.

According to World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) regulations, an athlete who has been found positive for banned substances is automatically banned for two years.

The Malaysian Weightlifting Federation (MWF) are expected to announce Amirul's positive test anytime now.

Amirul is the biggest name to be embroiled in a doping scandal since fellow Pahang-born athlete, sprinter Azmi Ibrahim, who was banned for two years in 1996 for using masking agent furosemide during the Malaysia Games in Kuantan.

It is learnt Amirul had been summoned by the MWF disciplinary board who will in turn submit their report to the MWF exco for further action.

Malaysian Association of Doping Control in Sports (Masdoc) chairman, Datuk Dr M. Jegathesan, declined to comment, saying the matter was in the hands of the association.

ISN director, Dr Ramlan Abdul Aziz, also declined comment.

Amirul bathed himself in glory near the Theatre of Dreams of Old Trafford in 2002 when he lifted three gold medals in record style in the 56kg category.

He broke the clean and jerk record with a lift of 145kg, on top of the 115kg in snatch for an overall lift of 260kg.

It was learnt that due to the positive samples, Amirul was not allowed to participate in the Islamic Solidarity Games (ISG) in Saudi Arabia in April.

I almost did not make it Live on Blog!

The day started on a worrying note for me. I was kept under observation at Ampang Puteri after I stepped onto a colony of red ants while clearing the clogged drain at our backyard. There was an allergic whole body reaction, including swellings on my face. Intan quickly told me to go to the hospital. My blood pressure shot up like crazy.

The doctor even suggested that I be warded. "It's good you came don't take allergy reactions for granted," he remarked.

"Oh no...I must take care of the kids! My maid is gone, seeking greener pastures and I need to take care of the kids while Intan goes to school!" I thought to myself.

To help reduce the swelling and itching, the nurse administered Chlorphenamine, a form of antihistamines used as treatment for allergies. I never knew I had allergies, but I could recall suffering from shingles after getting swarmed by again, red ants at the Masjid Jamek in Kuala Lumpur while still in school!

After two hours, the doctor told me I could go home. About that time, I saw Datuk Fauzi Omar accompanying his son at the emergency room.

"Eh, what happened to you? Fancy meeting you here!"

"Yeah la, of all places...Allergic lah Datuk...I was attacked by a colony of red ants and my whole body was itching and swelling."

Hours later, I was at Wisma TV Angkasapuri as a guest of Blog, where a number of prominent bloggers had had their 15 minutes of fame, prime time on national TV, including my ex-bosses AKJ and Rocky, Nuraina Samad, RPK and Joe Lee (

I don't consider myself as a prominent blogger. I blog just to post my own thoughts on issues concerning sports. My being there was simply because the Olympics in Beijing is in full swing.

I said among other things, I did not agree with the RM1 million incentives for a gold medal, that sports is being politicised and football should set a realistic target of excelling at South East Asia only until the basics are rectified at grassroots level.

I also stated my opinion that Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said's decision to split the National Sports Council (NSC) and the National Sports Institute (ISN) was a political move.

The poll indicated that 66 percent of the viewers did not agree with the RM1 million cash reward for a gold in the Olympics

Once Tan Sri Elyas Omar told me in private "Rizal, for someone who looks like a kampung boy, your English is not too bad". Thank you Tan Sri. I am a kampung boy at heart, in mind, and in appearance.

Hasshim Abu Hanifah raised several interesting issues...but some of the feedback I got was less than encouraging. They said I failed to seize the moment! Some said I did well. OK lah...little did Hasshim and others know I almost missed the moment entirely!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympics - my personal recollection Part 1

Covering the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 certainly remains the highlight of my journalistic career. Not everybody gets to cover the most prestigious, ultimate and biggest sporting extravaganza in the planet.

I was pleasantly surprised when the then Malay Mail sports editor, Rajan Etickan, handed me the letter from the Olympic Council of Malaysia of the quota given to Mailsport, circa 2003.

"You've been nominated to go to Athens."

Rajan picked me ahead of Tony Mariadass and Mustapha Kamaruddin, two of my seniors at the desk. His reasoning was simple - Tony had gone to the previous edition in Sydney, while Mus was not keen on covering a multi-sports event. I, on the other hand, had the Manchester Commonwealth Games 2002 and four SEA Games under my belt.

"The best man to go is the man who covers athletics," added Rajan.

Athens...the birthplace of the modern Games. The Olympic Games returning to its roots. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That was my good fortune. My rezeki.

That was a year before the Athens Games in August 2004. Preparation had to be done a year ahead. Application of accreditation tags and accommodation must be confirmed well in advance.

The rest of the crew were big names of the New Straits Times group, Lazarus Rokk (New Straits Times sports editor), Badrulhisham Othman (Berita Harian sports editor), Azahar Mohd Taib (Harian Metro senior writer) and Tham Foo Kan (senior photographer). Khalid Redza who had been to several Olympics, went to Athens on his own.

So as the youngest of the beefy lot, I was tasked to do the honours of searching for the right accommodation. Our thanks to Ibrahim of the editorial management office who dealt with the agent via e-mails that I forwarded to him.

This picture was taken at the apartment we rented throughout the Games. It belonged to the Morous. Front row (from left) Khalid Redza, adidas model, Tham Foo Kan. (Back) from left to right, Azahar, Badrul or Buddy and cigar-smoking Rokk who must have been thinking he was the best looking dude of the crew. The Jalur Gemilang was left behind as a token of appreciation to the Morous. The headgears, hmm...are they real Greek headgears?

Thanks to TV presenter Zainal Abidin Rawop who wanted to interview Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt, I was given the chance to get up, close and personal with the two. Bolt was a raw 17-year old then!

The routine after each sweat-inducing day was to makan-makan the Indian Village owned by a Pakistani. From left my better known namesake Rizal Abdullah of the Star, Jamaican fan, Buddy, Azahar, Hamdan Saaid of Bernama (now he's with Berita Harian) and D. Raj of the Star.

Rumours of the Malay Mail were about to be sold were already the talking point in the corridors of NST at that time, so I knew I could be the last MM representative to cover the Olympics. So against this backdrop, I jumped at the opportunity of "going to Beijing". To Darren, Dunstan and Deeno, the chieftain and amigos from adidas, I'm dropping a BIG hint here!

My fellow Johannian and I...this picture reminds me of a funny incident. I penned the following thoughts on my column which appeared in the Malay Mail every alternate day.

I GOT my bearings wrong the other day. Eager to provide a little coverage for the first Malaysian to break intoa sweat in this ongoing Olympiad, I hailed a cab near the Main Press Centre (MPC) in Kiffisias Avenue.

Destination? The Panathinaiko Stadium which staged the first modern Olympic Games 108 years ago. The target?

Futsal-playing archer of Thai descent, Mon Redee Sut Txi. The driver dropped me off at the main entrance of the storied stadium,where Acropolis was well within view and within reach, by foot of course.

The stadium was a natural bowl, consisting of two parallel rectangular hillsides facing each other. What caught my eye was the massive tiers of white marble blocks. This is awesome, I thought. Its vertical staircases and horizontal walkways divide the stadium into many sections and numerous tiers. The flat marble serve as seats, rising at a 45-degree angle.

But as soon as I entered the stadium after the security check-point,there was no sign of any archer in the vicinity. All I could see was a few technical crew. Then I noticed a familiar figure. I could spot his shining pate under the blazing Athens sun miles away.

The New Straits Times sports editor Lazarus Rokk must have lost his sense of direction as well. It dawned upon us that we were at the wrong venue. He had left the apartment much earlier, burdened with the fact 9am in Athens means 2pm inKL. The consolation though, was stepping onto the marbled Kallimarmaro,the stadium's nickname, which means beautiful marble.

As we made our way out of the stadium, using a cave-like tunnel which leads from the outside, high on the hill behind the stadium, it felt as if we were taking a journey into the past. We were, I believe, taking the same route that served as the entry for those Panathenian athletes.

We were treading on a well-trodden path, walking with the spirits of ancient athletes. A thumping sound brought us back to the present. A lady volunteer had dropped a large piece of canvas. She was making her way up the tunnel to the staircase.

Being the gentlemen that we are, having shared the same alma mater, Rokk and I offered to help. Like a Hellenic athlete desperate to demonstrate his athletic ability, we carried it all the way upstairs, with gusto and without complain.

In return for that touch of bravery and back-breaking attempt at carrying something that weighed almost 10kg, we got an Efharisto (thank you in Greek), I guess much to Rokk's disappointment. Gasping for breath, we were told by other volunteers the ranking competition which determined the seedings for Mon Redee was at Dekelia AirForce Base, almost one hour from where we were standing.

Oh well, she can wait for we had just been to our own version of the Olympics!!!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympics Part 2 - Opening spectacle

WHAT a spellbinding moment. The Bird's Nest Stadium became a tapestry of stunning visual show that sets a new benchmark for future hosts.

The four-hour spectacle came to a conclusion in typical Chinese style ala Jet Li. Li Ning, love handles et al, floated to the sky and lit the Olympic cauldron in the land that gave birth to Zheng He, or here in Malaysia he's commonly known as Laksamana Cheng Ho.

Athens too was memorable.

And Doha as well.

I wrote this following piece three days after the impressive opening ceremony of the Doha Asian Games in 2006.

DOHA, the tiny capital of Qatar, burst into a spectacle three nights ago and I must count my blessings to have witnessed it.
The lighting of the Games cauldron was simply extraordinary, dramatic and pure dare-devilstuff.
For those who missed the opening ceremony of the 15th Asian Games shownlive over RTM and Astro, it was a journey of dazzling tapestry of Islamic and Asian history, a night of the 1,001 nights.
In the most anticipated moment of the night, Mohammed bin Hamad binKhalifa Al-Thani, captain of the Qatari equestrian team, astride an Arabian thoroughbred, galloped a flight of stairs with one hand, while holding the torch on another. Not once but thrice the horse showed signs of struggling to reach the top, drawing gasps from a section of the 50,000-odd crowd, among whom were world leaders Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Abdullah Salleh (Yemen) plus International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge and FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter.
One could only shudder at the thought of the horse, dubbed the HeroHorse by the team behind the opening ceremony concept, collapsing near the pinnacle to the music composed for the occasion by Malaysian-born Chong Lim.
Thankfully it did not happen. It was just apprehension on my part. The whole spectacle was pre-ordained to go down in history, perhaps as memorable as the moment when the crowd held their breath as Paralympian archer Antonio Rebollo shot a flaming arrow 80 metres from the floor of the stadium to light the cauldron in Barcelona Olympics 1992.
But while the whole world was transfixed on what was unfolding at theKhalifa Stadium, the athletes - without whom "the Games of Your Life"would mean little - were fighting the chilling weather and rain.
Positioned at an uncovered area after the march past, all they wanted to do was to go back to the Athletes' Village after a long day.
Drenched and freezing, the athletes and officials pushed the security officials and rushed to the buses placed quite a distance away. In the pandemonium, some of the athletes and officials, according to witnesses, fell. Malaysian athletes, dressed in cheongsam and kungfu dress, kurta and our national dress the baju Melayu - were also part of the commotion.
They left the Athletes' Village as early as 3pm, took part in the march past and came back around 1am, way past their bed time. The contingent prayed hard that none of the athletes who got wet needed more than some paracetamol.
Perhaps fearing the backlash, the daily chef-de-mission meeting on Saturday was cancelled. Ah, well ... anyway while sports is supposed to be the unifying factor, the contingent wore different dresses to depict the melting pot that isMalaysia. But the contingent were supposed to be projected as one, solid unit. That they are all Malaysians, and that sports transcends racial barriers.
After all the authorities went to great lengths to ask the rakyat to come up with the Harimau Malaya design. But alas, perfection is never of this world. To err is human after all. Even a pure bred gelding - built for strength and endurance - came close to fluffing his lines.

Olympics, four years on Part 1

Some of the books, magazines and newspapers I brought back with me from the city of intellect

Olympics...ah, as we look ahead to almost a month of sporting spectacle, I can recall a lot of things that took place in the previous edition in Athens.

I remember the gang from the New Straits Times group bunking together in an apartment some 20 minutes from the Main Press Centre (MPC) at Kiffisias Avenue.

While Lazarus Rokk and Tham Foo Kan were trying to surpass each other in breaking the decibel levels with their snoring (they roomed together), Azahar Mohd Taib from Harian Metro and I were room mates for almost one month that we grew bored with each other!

Badrulhisham Othman, always the romantic, preferred to take the bed between my room and the lavatory, while Khalid Redza and later Hamdan Saaid from Bernama had the TV all to themselves upstairs.

I'm sure the gentlemen remember the landlord's two daughters - Dina and Dora, one a lawyer the other a doctor.

I remember the Press being made to wait for VVIP Datuk Azalina Othman Said for a get-together outside Carrefour which was situated adjacent to the MPC. The Greek tragedy in Athens, in many ways, provided an excuse for Azalina to trample on institutions...

Who would be made the scapegoat should we return again empty-handed?

I wonder who Datuk Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Azalina's successor, would point his fingers at...

Final Piala Belia

Piala Belia FAM sudah sampai ke penghujungnya Ahad ini. Final yang akan diadakan di Stadium Sultan Muhammad IV di Kota Bharu mempertemukan pasukan Sekolah Sukan Bukit Jalil (SSBJ) dengan tuan rumah Kelantan pada jam 4.0 petang.
Final ini agak signifikan. Ia adalah final terakhir pertandingan Bawah 19 tahun ini yang akan dimansuhkan bermula musim depan. Piala ini akan tinggal dalam lipatan sejarah bola sepak negara.
Ia dimansuhkan kerana Kementerian Pelajaran melancarkan Piala KPM khusus untuk Bawah 14 dan Bawah 17 tahun.
Maka satu-satunya pertandingan belia yang ada di bawah seliaan FAM adalah Piala Presiden, satu kejohanan Bawah 21 tahun.
Berbalik kepada final Ahad ini, SSBJ adalah juara bertahan dan dibimbing oleh anak Melaka yang juga bekas bek kebangsaan, Ong Kim Swee.
Selain menjadi tonggak Barcelona Babes bawah teraju Chow Kwai Lam pada 1991-92, Kim Swee menjadi orang kepercayaan Claude Le Roy pada Sukan Asia di Hiroshima pada 1994.
Kim Swee juga menjadi jurulatih program realiti TV Soccerkids di TV3.
Anak buah Kim Swee dan Yong Wai Hwang semuanya duduk sebumbung di Bukit Jalil dan masih bersekolah. Program ini bersandarkan perjanjian bersama FAM dan KPM yang sudah melahirkan Aidil Zafuan dan Zaquan Adha Abdul Radzak, Amirulhadi Zainal, Nasril Nourdin dan Safiq Rahim.
Kelantan yang berazam menebus kekecewaan abang-abang senior gagal ke suku akhir Piala Malaysia, membariskan pemain lebih berusia.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The end of foreign pros

Karel Stromsik, Zoran Nikolic, Fandi Ahmad, Stephen Keshi, Emile Mbouh Mbouh, Alex Freeman, Alan Davidson, Zsolt Bucs...these are some of the foreign pros I can remember off hand who provided and injected the spark, inspiration and excitement into the domestic football scene over the years.

The FA of Malaysia council members on Saturday decided it was time to close the door on foreign pros...

Personally, I feel it is the wrong decision to take. Then again, how many foreign pros really contribute something to the team and in the process help educate their Malaysian team mates?

I feel sorry for the likes of Cornelius Huggins and Marlon James. They are the real cornerstones of the Kedah team, aided by Victor Andrag's steadying influence and Ahmad Fauzi Shaari's non-stop running and abetted by the emerging talents of Baddrol Bakhtiar, Khyril Muhymeen Zambri, Fadly Baharom and Shafiq Jamal.

If Kedah can afford to employ foreign players, let them. Why punish them with this blanket ruling?