Monday, January 27, 2014

Queen's Baton Relay - Malaysia

Many days on the Queen's Baton Relay are inspiring, but perhaps none more so than today – the first day of activities for the baton in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Coming from Singapore on an early morning flight, we were taken straight to the Commonwealth Games Association of Malaysia's Sports Museum and Hall of Fame, to hold a press conference to announce the arrival of the baton. In rooms full of Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Olympic history and memorabilia, it was hard not to be in awe of the significance of these sporting events, and to think of those athletes who have given their all for their respective countries. It brings next year's Games into perspective, and people upon seeing and celebrating the baton are carrying on a rich tradition of honouring elite athletes who have put in hours of training, who have sacrificed, to be able to compete at the Games.

After the formal proceedings of the press conference, hosted by His Royal Highness Tunku Imran, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, a small presentation took place, one which perfectly matched the morning's events and surroundings. Malaysian athlete, Govindasamy Saravanan, stepped forward, and wished to make a special presentation of his 1998 Commonwealth Games Gold medal for the 50km walk to HRH Tunku Imran and the Sports Museum. With smiles all around, Saravanan donated his medal and his sporting vest, shorts (washed he promised everyone!) and racing bib number 1499, which he had been wearing when he won Malaysia's tenth Gold medal at the Kuala Lumpur Games.

It was a selfless act on the part of Saravanan and we were intrigued about his motives for donating his medal after all these years. He happily told us, "for 15 years I was holding the Gold medal in my home, looking at it, and wanting someone, a relation, to beat my record. But none of them have broke it, and I told myself I am the only one watching it, looking at it. And if I donate the medal to the museum then whole nation can come and look at it, it can inspire them, they can win a Gold medal. Apart from that I feel winning the Gold medal was my personal effort, but it was for my country, Malaysia, so I donate it to you."

We asked Saravanan, who is retired from competition and now coaches young athletes, about the Queen's baton on the table near us, and he replied, again smiling, "I saw the baton on the television and in photos, but when I hold it, I ask myself 'why did I retire? I am still young'. And when I hold it, I feel the vibration from the baton and I ask myself 'am I too old to race walk again?' Hopefully I will be in Glasgow next year to watch, but at the moment I am coaching youth walkers under 18 years old. I coach my 15 year old son, Prasad, in the team. I want him to follow in my footsteps and when he represents his country, by going to a Commonwealth Games, I will be there for him, to support him, to coach him, to tell him 'hey, these are the Games where your father got a gold medal, now it's your turn!' "

With the energy, generosity of spirit and encouragement of Govindasamy Saravanan we don't doubt there are further race walk medals ahead for the Malaysian team, and in particular we hope for Saravanan's son, Prasad. Best of luck!

Our second day in Kuala Lumpur and we've found that there is as much inspiration as perspiration in the humid climate of Malaysia.

We've been fortunate to be here at a time coinciding with different sporting events, which we were keen to attend, and to accept kind invitations for the Queen's Baton to be guest at.

Yesterday afternoon we were invited to the opening ceremony of the Asian Youth Para Games 2013, to watch the festivities and performances. Para-athletes from countries as diverse as Iraq, Syria, China, Japan and Vietnam, mixed with their counterparts from Commonwealth countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia and Singapore. In a ceremony which promoted inclusion, equality, and parity of para-athletes alongside able-bodied athletes, it was hard not to be moved by the speeches, performances and the flag waving of the athletes.

The Malaysian Minister of Youth and Sports Encik Khairy Jamaluddin spoke passionately about the growing number of both sports at Para Games and numbers of para-athletes competing in them, telling us “a total of 14 sports will be contested here this time. This is a significant increase from the 2009 Games in Tokyo. This shows the Games are growing in stature, a trend I hope continues." And to the athletes themselves he directed encouraging words, “it’s great to see the spirit and the burning desire present in our young athletes here today. This is where a lot of you will realise your dreams, forge new friendships, and make the impossible, possible. Winning is important and I know that’s what athletes like you have trained very hard for. Everyone wants to win a Gold medal. However, for all of you to be here, competing against some of the best in Asia tells me that all of you are winners. Continue striving for excellence in both sports and life.”
The opening ceremony ended with children from the UNICEF 'Disable2Enable' project, carrying the Queen's baton on stage to present to the Malaysian Minister, and to show to the numerous athletes and media present.

This morning, Sunday, another hot and humid day began in the Perdana Botanical Gardens, a beautiful lush oasis of greenery and water features near the city centre. Out before the heat could rise, the baton was again centre stage, carried in relay around the gardens by joggers from different organisations, as well as by Malaysian athletes medal winners at Commonwealth Games and Olympics.

To conclude our morning the baton was invited by UNICEF to participate in launching their 'Disable2Enable' campaign, and was carried on stage by young children, including 13-year old Andrea who lives with cerebral palsy. Mr. Phenny Kakama, of UNICEF Malaysia, spoke kind words to launch the campaign, and also to welcome the baton, saying “the Disable to Enable campaign and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games share the same values of inclusiveness, humanity, equality and destiny – all of which translates to the rights that belong to all children, including children with disabilities.

All children have enormous potential, including children with disabilities. Every one of them can be an agent of change and participate in society, if they are given the chance to do so.”
Mr Kakama concluded by asking the audience present to “share our conviction that when we see the disability before the child, it is wrong not only for the child, it also deprives society of all that child has to offer. All of us have a role to play in removing barriers to inclusion and participation as well as providing a loving and nurturing environment to better support children with disabilities and their families.”
Galleries here!

Both events were great showcases for the inclusive nature of sports, and for the positive aspects it can bring to our societies. It has been an inspiring weekend in Malaysia, and one with a positive message full of values which we will carry forward on our journey through the Commonwealth, and ultimately to our Games in Glasgow next year. Thank you Malaysia!

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