July 4, 2010

World Cup Project: Gol?

Posted in Malaysia, Outside Malaysia, Tricia's Writings at 4:39 pm by egalitaria

Amir Muhammad and team always seem to have some project or other up their sleeve. I appreciate their creativity in a Malaysian society that is just too willing to go with the flow, without any initiative on new and fresh ideas. So their project Gol? is yet another addition, a breath of fresh air to the stale rot, I mean, political condition, of Malaysia. They’ve gathered authors to write on their experiences and thoughts whilst watching the 2010 World Cup being staged in South Africa, from local mamak stalls and such. It’s been interesting to observe the variety of writing styles and content of each author.

I was invited to contribute a piece on the last Quarter Final match, between Paraguay and Spain. Yes, Spain won. And yes, my piece lacks football punditry (I am not a football pundit), and is bone-dry as it analyses history and policy somewhat. But here it is for your consumption.

Paraguay vs. Spain

by Tricia Yeoh

The world is flat, and so is the football field. But the international flavour of any World Cup offers other historical sub-themes that are unseen at face value. Here you have the gathering of once-upon-a-time colonisers and their former colonies, put together in the spirit of apparent sporting unity and brotherhood. Never mind that their forefathers once had you under their thumb for centuries, putting you in a position of subordination. No, the World Cup erases all national memory. Come to the pitch and think about the game. Nothing else matters.

Or does it?

This psychological love-hate relationship of coloniser-colony is something Malaysians have equally struggled with. The British left us with infrastructure, schools, language, and a legal and constitutional framework of governance, which were positive contributions. But they also initiated a divide-and-rule system, conveniently classifying our wide variety of ethnicities into categories of ‘race’, which we have inherited today, causing us to think of Malaysians as largely homogeneous definitions of “Malay, Chinese, Indian”. We have not been able to rise above this particular negative effect the British left behind. In fact, this tragedy and its political consequences may be the singular cause for all other problems faced, including Malaysia’s inability to shine in international football.

This quarter-finals pitted Spain against its former colony, Paraguay. Although Paraguay achieved its independence relatively early compared to other Spanish conquests in South America, almost 300 years of authoritarian Spanish rule had a detrimental effect on their people, in terms of poverty, lack of access to education and undemocratic practices. Paraguay would thereafter succumb to dictatorship and civil unrest, leading it to a struggling economy which still exists today, with about 60% of its people living in poverty.

But their fighting spirit at Ellis Park tonight bore no resemblance to these conditions. Although the first half ended with no goals on either side, Paraguay showed its brute confidence and bravado in pushing forward, never giving up despite their disadvantaged position. They were, after all, up against the team that topped the bookmakers’ odds in winning the World Cup (that is, before Spain’s first game).

The Guatemalan referee then upped the drama on the game in the second half by calling for penalty kicks for both teams within several minutes of the other. First for Paraguay, which was painfully missed by Cardozo, then for Spain, where Alonso’s goal was disallowed and its repeat saved by the Paraguayan goalie. Spain eventually emerged the victor when the popular David Villa rescued the pole-bouncing ball seven minutes before full time. It was a brilliant manoeuvre by the Spanish. The winner takes it all, but Spain’s otherwise sloppy finishes will have to be polished up before meeting the technically concise Germans in the semi-finals.

The Paraguayans were the heroes of the day, still, to me. It was the furthest they had ever come to in the World Cup, only qualifying up to the round of 16 in 2002. They fought with all their might, despite the odds against them – Spain reached the semi-finals once in 1950. This display reminded me of how possible it is for a nation under subjugation to rise above and beyond what is given to them. They could, for example, have accepted their fate as the inferior team, and worse, unnoticed as a global economic player.

But the ball, as they say, is round. And this the Paraguayan team understood fully. History may not have been kind or fair to them, but when the chance arose for the grabbing, they took this as an equal opportunity to perform excellently. When life gives you lemons, don’t sulk. Instead, make lemonade. And sell it.

The same can hardly be said of a Malaysia that continues to be weighed down by its colonial and post-colonial past, and its annoyingly mindless bickering on ethnicity and rights attached to it. Histories are important insofar as they teach us valuable lessons. But once accepted, it is more imperative that we rise above the past and reach for the stars. Paraguay showed this to us today. When will Malaysia show this to the world?

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