Malaysian football and "national self belief"

L.S. Sya is a member of the Asia Pacific Brands Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of branding standards. The author of Branding Malaysia, he is now a Brand Identity specialist with London BrandMagic. Writing of "The Asian Century" in the New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur), he included interesting comments about the failure of domestic football:

With the emergence of China and India as economic powerhouses, and because of our proximity to these countries, we are well placed to exploit their ascendancy. However, the key to elevating our economy to that of a fully developed nation will involve much more than mere dependence on fortuitous circumstances or the fortunes of our neighbours.

The way forward is to inculcate a national culture of innovation. To do this, we have to encourage the development of a national pre-disposition towards questioning the limitations and shackles of convention. This is the one national trait that has distinguished successful and thriving nations from the servile and obsequious colonies of times past.

For convention has several faces. One is as a social and geopolitical code or concordat of what is laid down as acceptable thinking or behaviour by others. The other, and less desirable one, is of a nation bound and paralysed by limiting national self belief and self confidence.

The Japanese were the first nation in Asia in modern times to first display this national trait. The Japanese transformed themselves from a nation subjugated to a nation with the second largest economy in the world. The Koreans, after suffering decades of humiliation as a colonised nation, followed in the Japanese footsteps to economic success. As the 10th largest economy in the world and third largest in East Asia behind Japan and China, South Korea can boast of being world beaters in semiconductors, mobile telephony and, more recently, automobiles.

Even in sports, like golf and football, the Koreans have shown how far they have come in throwing off the manacles of a limiting national self belief. The Koreans are beginning to produce an endless supply of golf champions, especially the women. First there was Pak Se Ri. Then there was Grace Park and a host of other Koreans who seem to be coming off a golfing assembly line. Just recently, their 16-year-old sensation, Amy Yang, won the Australian Ladies Golf Masters while K.J. Choi is making his presence felt in the men’s PGA Tour.

In the 60s, Malaysian football was more than a match for all Asia, including Korea.

Today, while our football is in the doldrums, the Koreans are a recognised international football nation. Park Ji Sung is a popular winger with Manchester United and his countryman ply their trade with some of the top clubs in Europe. The difference in the Koreans of those days and the Koreans of today is in their mindset. Today’s Koreans have cast off the shackles of their sad history, and regard themselves as equal to the rest of the world.

In the context of Brand Malaysia, if we are to take our rightful place in the ranks of the developed nations of the world, it is time we begin to push the envelope of national self belief.