What would Coubertin say to Malaysia
AUG 2 — “Son was 10 when diagnosed with asthma — a condition which induces breathing difficulties — so father decided in the most loving caring fashion to chuck the boy into the deep-end of a swimming pool.
“While missing a few heartbeats, son did prove that if you do swim you will not sink. Later, the buoyant boy was seated and steadied on a bike on top of a steep slope and then let go, speed learning kicked in and son got away almost without the loss of limbs. Almost.
“Since he had passed the easier tests, son was sent off in the dark to pitch a tent and camp solo for days. He is still camping somewhere out there today and might stop by your house for cocoa before he continues his hunt for the odd wild boar.”
It is a story I always tell to get folks to play sports, or to scare them.
It’s actually about my friend Mambang, and perhaps the embellishments are all too obvious.
But if you ever met the father, one of the local pioneers of jungle trekking with knowledge of Malaysian peaks not easily matched and a life of public service, you’d be hard-pressed to discount the stories.
Not after he gives you a rollicking for breaking some social convention you never knew existed.
But Mambang as a result has never suffered for his asthma since. He’d tell me that while most parents adjusted to their children’s breathing difficulties with medicine and inhalers, his dad got him exercised — perhaps in a way exorcised — from the ailment.
Which brings me to sports and what it can do for you and me.
Them stronger, faster and higher
It’s the Olympics now and many of us can be found staring blankly at the screen flicking intermittently between the Hungarian water-polo team or South Korean archers in action while munching on a bag of chips, feeling very athletic.
During these sessions, the only actual physical exertion would be the quick manoeuvring of the thumb around the remote control. Getting fit, one thumb at a time.
While Malaysians look to the skies and hope Lee Chong Wei — bandaged leg and all — lands the elusive major title, the prayers do not hide the ugly truth.
Though the Malaysian public’s love affair with sports is wonderful, its actual playing of the said sports or any sports is woeful.
The numbers show, other than four Arab nations, no other Asian nation has more obese people in ratio to population. If Mahathir during his rule wanted Malaysians to be large in all things or pretend to be, the people have taken it to heart and raised a generation of people larger than life.
Remember, industrialisation leading to automation and now the Information Age has fast forwarded a large swath of people from agrarian cultures to well, doing less physical labour. Most don’t bend down in a padi field, they swivel around their cubicle waiting for activity on their Facebook timeline.
Planned exercise is the replacement, getting your kids to run in a park is part of an agenda to keep them alive. Sports’ task is made more challenging with dietary discipline going out of the window.
It was always a problem as exercise remained mostly a single subject over a whole week’s schedule in our public schools, for decades.
Most parents don’t insist on a sports programme or discuss about it in PTAs.
Unfortunate, because school is a crucial component in keeping children fit, and then inculcating in them an appreciation of exercise.
The children are mostly nuclear family children living in areas with minimal sports facilities, and parents frightened for their safety outside school grounds.
There should be at least three full-hour gym/PE sessions per week and they must matter, as a must-pass course even if the scores can’t affect the grade point average.
It might have to start with teachers.
I remember a decade ago, the Philippines Police Force requiring all personnel to meet a minimum fitness level or to be removed from the service. Drastic yes, but it does get the message across.
Shouldn’t the message be made? When the health minister concurs that it is a serious problem, unfit Malaysians, and Astro is running ads on how you can exercise for minutes — like lifting a small water bottle (I am not making this up) — political parties should be campaigning on general fitness.
Let them come together
I do wonder if keeping people away from sports is a deliberate policy underpinning.
An extension of the “if you are too fat and lazy then you’ll never make it to the refrigerator” line. If Malaysians are generally unhealthy, then they are likelier to be less tuned in.
Healthy bodies are always going to be healthier minds. The IQ might differ like the car engine, but any car without maintenance would sputter irrespective of the make.
The government is keen on committing x-number of secondary school leavers into weeks of exercise under the National Service programme, because it believes the discipline and rigour would build character.
But you have years with the students in the schools, and using one thing that naturally leads to discipline, rigour, togetherness, civic consciousness and colour blindness without effort or indoctrination — sports.
It is in team sports you realise that your faith is truly in the hands or feet of someone other than yourself, and only in appreciating “their” relative value and how to leverage “their” effort can you achieve results.
Sports promotes freedom, critical thinking, spatial sense, mastery of goals and achieving them, and I suppose these are the downsides as far as the government is concerned.
The first sense of real freedom for the individual is to be able to command your body to act and to exceed your “perceived” physical space, ability and thrust. This is why they say a person in play is a person in joy.
I’m back from my weekly futsal session. The lads are not the type who take it easy, so at the end of the hour there is a price to pay.
My sore body curses me as I labour through my column every Wednesday night; however I do wake up with some spring in my step.
Please, by all means, get enough of the Olympics — I’m trying — but let’s get the exercise too. The volleyball you play might not raise the temperatures of the Cuban women’s team but you just have to — play, not stalk tall Caribbean ladies.
Mambang is probably going to run up Batu Caves and down — 10 times — or do an easy trek to the top of a local peak this weekend. I’m not, I’ll settle for a run-out with the bar team at a muddy pitch... not near as interesting.
You can do your own thing. Because Malaysia has to change its outlook to playing sports. It begins with you.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
Previous: Of National Day and party ploys