Badminton: Kok Keong thrilled to be honoured but calls for change at BAM

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PETALING JAYA: Exactly three weeks after the 30th anniversary of Malaysia’s last Thomas Cup victory, Foo Kok Keong, the hero of that great fightback against Indonesia, was conferred with a Datukship yesterday.

Well deserved: Badminton great Foo Kok Keong after receiving his Datukship yesterday.Well deserved: Badminton great Foo Kok Keong after receiving his Datukship yesterday.

It was indeed due recognition for the 59-year-old, who is fondly remembered for his dogged, never-say-die fighting spirit that helped Malaysia upstage giants China and Indonesia en route to glory on May 16, 1992.

However, Kok Keong’s joy over the Datukship was tinged with sadness – Malaysia have yet to lift the Cup again since that day.

While happy to be recognised by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, Kok Keong was sad about the current state of the sport.

Besides the unending wait for the Thomas Cup, the country is still pining for a world champion and an Olympic Games gold medal winner. Meanwhile, countries like Japan and India, who were unheralded during his time, have stepped up.

“I am happy and honoured to receive this award from His Majesty. This shows that our country recognises our dedication and sacrifices as a player in our glory days,” said Kok Keong.

“But like everyone else, I’m sad about the current situation of badminton in our country.

“In the past, we always had one or two top players. Malaysia were always ranked among the best in the world. Today, we are sliding down the ladder very quickly.

“Many nations that couldn’t play badminton at one time can now beat our players easily. Look at India. They showed that they have three strong singles and also good doubles players en route to winning their first Thomas Cup,” he said.

Besides Kok Keong, the1992 team also had the Sidek brothers – Rashid, Razif, Jalani, Rahman – Cheah Soon Kit, Soo Beng Kiang, Kwan Yoke Meng and Wong Ewe Mun. Except for Beng Kiang, Yoke Meng, Ewe Mun and Rahman, all others have been conferred with titles.

Kok Keong was the hero of the final against Indonesia when he dived all over the court to overcome Alan Budikusuma 15-6, 15-12 in the second singles. That turned the tide and inspired Soon Kit-Beng Kiang to deliver the winning point.

“The whole team in 1992 were elated at that time. My feelings at that moment were the same as the whole nation, happy and joyful. It was a great moment to cherish with the whole nation,” recalled Kok Keong.

Malaysia have come close on several occasions after that, most recently in 2014 in New Delhi but have not been able to get over the line in the final.

Kok Keong has called for change in the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) to finally bring home the prestigious title again and stop the slide in the sport.

“A lot needs to be done. I think many ex-players have made some good suggestions. Perhaps BAM could have more dialogue sessions with all the people that care about the sport,” he said.

“BAM must be brave and bold enough to make drastic changes for the good of badminton in Malaysia and win back the Thomas Cup in the near future.”

Kok Keong, who became the first Malaysian to reach No. 1 when the world rankings was introduced, was especially alarmed by Malaysia’s inability to produce world junior champions in the past few years.

Malaysia had never failed to produce world junior champions until 2010. However, there have been none for the last 10 years, except for Goh Jin Wei who won the girls singles title in 2015 and 2018.

“In the last few years, we’ve had zero winners on the junior stage. Even our neighbours Thailand have many junior champions now. This is very alarming and something needs to be done before the situation is beyond redemption,” added Kok Keong.

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