My Say: Take a breather from politics and watch the World Cup

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 12, 2022 - December 18, 2022.
My Say: Take a breather from politics and watch the World Cup
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Unlike politics, which is very divisive, football unites us all, says Fifa, the International Federation of Association Football.

Not only that, during the run-up to and now with the World Cup in Qatar, Fifa is continuing with a campaign on how it believes the power of football can bring the world together. The Football Unites the World campaign carries the message that the sport unites us in passion, love, peace, hope and joy too.

In contrast, here in Malaysia, three weeks after the general elections, political divisiveness remains strong. We now have a new government, a prime minister, a full cabinet and an opposition bloc, but both sides of the political divide continue to hurl below-the-belt political barbs, accusing each other of wrongs committed and not acknowledging the right they have done. This must stop; it is time to move on.

While the wrongs and weaknesses of the previous government — notably those involving corruption or serious breaches of government administrative procedures — must be investigated and corrected, and dangerous racial and religious incitement and scaremongering curbed, I believe the majority of the rakyat want the Pakatan Harapan-led unity government to concentrate on governing and managing the economy well right away. It should not get distracted by the opposition’s petty accusations by engaging with them in never-ending counter-arguments.

The rakyat also wants the PAS-led Perikatan Nasional bloc — which does not want to be part of the unity government — to be a good and responsible opposition to check the government’s wrongs and weaknesses. They should not criticise just for the sake of undermining the government. 

Malaysians, after seeing three changes of government in the four years prior to the general election, want politicians to give political peace a chance, and make economic recovery and better race and religious relations a priority. Let’s wait for another five years and the 16th general election if we want to change the government. Is that too much to ask for?

That is why I would rather not get into unfruitful WhatsApp engagement with friends over politics, arguing about who is right or wrong. As the World Cup now enters its final stages, I would prefer everything football — watching live matches, reading football magazines and listening to what football players and managers have to say.

Sometimes they make more sense than politicians. So here, as we celebrate the biggest sporting event in the world, I am reproducing some quotes that may provide us with insights into life rather than those with toxic political views.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden’s most famous player, on staying grounded, sensible and humble, even if you are rich:

While looking for a new house, he said to his wife, “Go and get a house with furniture ready because I do not follow you to where you would want to buy the furniture.” She later tells him she has found a nice house but without furniture. “So, I told her to go to Ikea and get the furniture. And then the broker goes on saying that rich people don’t buy furniture at Ikea. I said no, they don’t (buy) but intelligent people do.”

Dani Alves, at 39, is the oldest player to appear for Brazil at the World Cup in Qatar. He has won 47 trophies, more than any other player in history, and has had a long successful career with Barcelona. He talks about the importance of teamwork:

When asked where he keeps all his medals and if there is a room in the house big enough to place them, he said: 

“I keep all of them in my office to inspire the people who work with me. I want them to see the medals every day so that they too can reach their goals. (For me) it’s not about looking at the trophies and feeling like I am amazing. All those glories are in the past … But I want everyone around me to know that I am a team person. I would never consider myself the only one responsible for those trophies. There is nothing wrong in having ambitions to win more — that’s my personality — but make sure you don’t feel like you do it by yourself.”

Dan Gaspar, part of Portugal’s coaching staff at the 2010 World Cup, on Cristiano Ronaldo’s rigorous training ethics despite already being among the best players in the world then:

“It wasn’t rare for all the players to be on the bus after training but Cristiano was still out there taking free kicks and we were waiting for him. Nobody was getting off the bus and telling him to hurry because we all knew that one free kick could change our lives forever.”

Alex Ferguson, the most successful club manager in European football, adds: “I was always struck by the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo never chose to deface his body (having tattoos, which today is a trend among less accomplished and famous younger players). It said a lot about his self-discipline.”

Alex Ferguson on “Fergie time” (scoring goals in the last few minutes of play, and there is no better example than Manchester United’s two injury-time goals that beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 European Cup), not giving up and having a winning mentality:

“Very often our victories were squeaked out in the last few minutes after we had drained the life of our opponents. Games — like life — are all about waiting for a chance and then pouncing on them. We have a virus that infected everyone at United. It was called winning.”

Eric Cantona, French international and Manchester United star, who retired early from football, on having an option and pursuing other interests:

“Often, there are players who have only football as a way of expressing themselves and never develop other interests. And when they no longer play football, they no longer do anything; they no longer exist, or rather they have the sensation of no longer existing.”

Johan Cruyff, the Dutch football great who became the architect of modern football, on recognising the human qualities of finding talent:

“I find it terrible when talents are rejected based on computer stats. Based on the criteria at Ajax now, I would have been rejected. When I was 15, I couldn’t kick a ball 15 meters with my left and maybe 20 meters with my right. My qualities, technique and vision, are not detectable by a computer.”

Pele, the only player to win the World Cup three times, on acknowledging the efforts of the regular players in a team:

“I am constantly being asked about individuals. The only way to win is as a team. Football is not about one, two or three, star players.”

Zinedine Zidane, the French footballer of Algerian descent who had a successful stint as a player and manager with Real Madrid, on being grateful for what life has to offer:

“I once cried because I had no shoes to play football. But one day I met a man who had no feet.”

It’s World Cup time. It will be good for our politicians to depoliticise things and take a breather and stop hurling accusations against each other. After all, the general election is over.

But then again, Ruud Gullit, the Dutch football maestro, did remind us that “politics and football don’t mix”.

Azam Aris is editor emeritus at The Edge Malaysia

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