It is a tradition for fans to coin names for their teams, my favourite team in the British Premier League (BPL) Liverpool are known as the Reds (after the colour of their jerseys and not to be mistaken for the auld enemy from Manchester).
These names are rallying calls for the fans- remember Ngap Sayot the battle cry of Awang Mahyan and his band of rabble rousers that took the national football scene by storm in the 80s?
Ngap Sayot galvanized the whole of Sarawak, when the team played especially at the State Stadium in Kuching Sarawakians stood as one behind their team.
Indeed sports is arguably the most effective unifying and conversely divisive factor in society.
Now with our national team entering the semi-finals of Asean level Suzuki Cup after beating our bitter rivals Indonesia football is given the chance again to unite the nation as the spirit of fans across the nation rose again after a dismal defeat to Singapore in the opening match of the tournament.
But there is a fly in the ointment – while I am very proud of coach Datuk K. Rajagopal’s achievement, the name Harimau Malaya or Malayan Tigers given to the Malaysian team is divisive rather than unifying.
Well, maybe those from the Peninsular do not mind the team to be called as such but whoever coined the nickname for the national team did not realise that it excludes East Malaysia .
If Malaysia is made up of just Malaya, I would not be bothered by what name they want to give to their team but Malaysia is made up of not just Malaya -there is no Malaysia without Sarawak and Sabah!
Rubbing salt to injury when Malaysia lost to Singapore, the national media and football pundits avoided using Harimau Malayawhen referring to the national team preferring to refer the team as Malaysia.
Perhaps they thought it was allright to include Sarawak and Sabah when the going got rough.
But when Malaysia beat Indonesia last Saturday night, the national newspapers went to town with the triumph of Harimau Malaya – when the going is good it seems there is no room for the East Malaysian states
Most Sarawakians I shared my sentiments with were also upset and disappointed over this situation.
Among them was Assistant Minister of Sports Datuk Lee Kim Shin who stressed that as a national football team, the name given to it should be inclusive otherwise it could be very divisive and unhealthy especially when sports could be a uniting factor.
He suggested that the team should be called 1Malaysia Team as promoted by the prime minister.
“Pasukan 1Malaysia or 1Malaysia Team sounds great and inclusive of both Sarawak and Sabah but not Harimau Malaya,” he told The Borneo Post recently.
President of Sarawak Football Fan Club Peter Moni said Harimau Malaysia should be acceptable even though the presence of these felines in Sarawak and Sabah are as rare players from these two states in the national team,
In fact tigers have long been extinct in Borneo and so have East Malaysia players in the national team!
The last Sarawak player to don the national colours was midfielder Joseph Kallang Tie two years ago.
Moni seemed to suggest some form of bias in the national tea selection when he said “Joseph is a good player who is as good as the rest of the present squad members”.
Someone in the Facebook posted these comments…“It’s interesting to note that the Ms’an team playing in the current Suzuki AFF Cup doesn’t have any S’wakian or Sabahan footballer(s).No wonder it’s called ‘Harimau Malaya’!Where is our Joseph Kalang Tie or Bobby Gonzales…fellow Borneans? Maybe standard answer is “Sorry pal…u r not good enough” lol. Worth to ponder us
Borneons hoping even sports doesn’t sideline us in our desire to be part of a bigger nation. Can we prove that we r as good or even better…..?No offence…just something that come across my mind on a lazy friday afternoon:)”
However, we have to accept that national team selection should be based purely on ability and nothing else.
If the best players in all the eleven positions happen to be from Kelantan then Rajagopal should have no qualms about fielding that team.
Let’s face it if Luis Suarez or Robin Van Persie were from Sarawak theirs would be the first names in Rajagopal’s team list.
We can accept it if players from Sarawak are deemed not good enough for the national team but calling the national team Harimau Malaya is a different kettle of fish,
The national team is not just about Malaya alone, it is about the whole country including Sarawak and Sabah!
Despite my misgiving over Harimau Malaya I will be rooting for our national team in the semi-final of the Suzuki Cup against tournament favourite Thailand.
Like all football fans in East Malaysia my prayers will for our boys to retain the trophy for the third consecutive year but in my book they will never be Harimau Malaya.
Forget about 1Malaysia if the national team is exclusively Malaya.