6 Sports Stars Making A Social Impact In Malaysia

Over the years, Malaysia’s name has soared locally and internationally and it’s all thanks to the country’s prestigious sportsmen and sportswomen. Aside from creating our nation’s proudest and most historic moments, we can all agree that Malaysians have united in the name of sports when it comes to supporting our very own national athletes.

But these sports figures – both retirees and active athletes, bring more to the table than just their athletic contributions. They’ve inspired and encouraged many Malaysians through numerous advocacy efforts and by breaking stereotypes.

Malaysia’s National Sports Day 2022 falls on October 7-9. To honour this day, we have decided to highlight a few national sportsmen and women who continue to lead by example.

#1: Farah Ann Is All About Empowering Women

Source: Prestige

Malaysia’s former artistic gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi dedicated 25 years of her life to sports. The 28-year-old has been an inspiration for young women all over the country, showing them that the possibilities of success are endless if they put their minds to it. Early this year in March, Farah announced her retirement, citing sports injuries among other reasons[1]

Realising that the sports industry may undermine the abilities of a woman, Farah has always pushed on to change the negative narrative. 

Gender roles are placed on women, [which] makes them feel that sports somehow makes them less ladylike or too masculine. – Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, former Malaysian artistic gymnast[2]  

However, for two decades, her dedication and participation in the sports industry have proven otherwise, especially as she took home seven gold medals at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. 

As a woman public figure, Farah is no stranger to demeaning criticism. She received backlash in 2015 for wearing a leotard- a gymnast attire, at the 28th SEA Games in Singapore. Her attire became a heated debate over her achievements of two gold medals, a silver medal and three bronze medals at the game[3]. She was also named the Female Olympian of the Year in 2019 by the Olympic Council of Malaysia[3].

Throughout her career, Farah has empowered women to reach for the stars. As an accomplished gymnast, Farah is currently a member of the jury for Malaysia Games artistic gymnastics at the National Sports Council in Bukit Jalil[4]. Aside from this, she seeks to aid younger and upcoming gymnasts.

It is a very heavy job, but I love guiding the younger gymnasts. So that’s why I came up with the plan of doing camps where I still get to impart my knowledge. I’m in the process of thinking about what the camps are going to be like. I just give everything that I’ve learned throughout the years of being a competitive gymnast and impart the knowledge to all the young girls, and of course, I help them a little bit with training, where I can talk to the coaches and parents.[2] – Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, former Malaysian artistic gymnast

#2: Nicol David Champions Education For All

Source: The Star

Although retired, squash queen Datuk Nicol Ann David will always be a name Malaysians is proud to utter. She defied all odds and was ranked the World No.1 for nine years – from 2006 to 2015. At just five years old, athletic Nicol picked up the racquet and never looked back. Soon after, her 15-year-old self won the Women’s World Junior Squash Championships in 1999[5].

When I was five years old, I was given the greatest opportunity in my life, and that was to play a sport – squash. That opportunity changed my life forever, as it showed me the importance of hard work, dedication and humility. – Datuk Nicol Ann David, former Malaysian squash player[6]

Throughout her glory days, Malaysia watched the effort of her hard work displayed in games all over the world. Her countless championship titles and World Open Crown achievements brought Nicol to heights unimagined.

At 35 years old, she decided it was time to retire from playing professionally. Nicol was quick on her feet to formulate plans that would allow her to give back to the local community.

In June this year, Nicol alongside Colombian professional squash professional Mariana de Reyes launched Nicol David Organisation(NDO), a non-profit organisation in Bukit Jalil. NDO was set up to empower the young ones through sports and education.

The Little Legends programme supports B40 and M40 children with an after-school programme that includes squash training, English tutoring and life skills. The subsidised programme enables children ages eight to 12 to be trained for five years before they go to secondary school. They are selected for the programme from public schools in the surrounding areas of Bukit Jalil and Sri Petaling. – Datuk Nicol Ann David, former Malaysian squash player[6]

#3: Azizulhasni Awang Advocates For Better Mental Health

Source: The Vibes

34-year-old Datuk Azizulhasni Awang, a national track cyclist has gone to great lengths to make his country proud. Earlier this month, he has crowned the Athlete of the Year at the Sportswriters Association of Malaysia (SAM) 100Plus Unity 2020/2021 Awards. He also bagged the same award in 2009, 2017, and 2019[7]. Alongside these are his prominent wins at the Tokyo Olympics winning a silver medal, and receiving a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics.

But these achievements didn’t come easy. With these came blood, sweat and tears that many don’t see. An advocate for mental health, Azizul speaks out on the misconception that our national athletes have it all together. 

There are a lot of misconceptions that just because I look physically strong, and I won medals, I shouldn’t seek help and that I’ll be fine on my own. But the reality is if I don’t seek professional help, it will create more problems because I’m under pressure (almost) every day. – Datuk Azizulhasni Awang, national track cyclist[8]

With the pressure to attain high achievement, athletes often compromise their mental health to attain success. A study by the University of Toronto has shown that elite athletes were prone to mental health struggles. These included anxiety and depression. However, these struggles are often masked by the hectic schedules and strong outlooks of these athletes[9].

Just because I train every day, it doesn’t mean my performance improves all the time. There are ups and downs, and I could be physically and mentally tired too. – Datuk Azizulhasni Awang, national track cyclist[8]

During the Tokyo Olympics, he had his heart set on the prize – First Place. Azizul felt that he was at his peak. But things don’t always go as planned. Shocked by the results, he had to navigate his thoughts. He began to learn that emphasizing his mental health was just as important as competing. In 2021, he pledged to support the Green Ribbon Movement, a platform placing awareness on mental health[9].

If you don’t do something to ‘service’ your mind, you are bound to break down eventually. There are people who could help. We just need to reach out to them to allow them to help us. –  Datuk Azizulhasni Awang, national track cyclist[8]

#4: Eddie Lim Develops Youth Through Coaching

Source: The Sun

Eddie Lim is a former national Taekwondo athlete in the early 2000s. When he was 18, Eddie took home a gold medal in the men’s category at the 22nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Vietnam in 2003, being the youngest at the time. After four years of being a national athlete, Eddie retired in 2004 and moved on to pursue a career in coaching[11]

He’s currently the Head of the Youth Bureau under the ASEAN Retailers and Franchise Federation (ARFF), an organisation established to promote economic growth while developing commercial opportunities throughout the entire ASEAN region and beyond[12].

Aside from this, Eddie was inspired to give back after receiving years of training from his taekwondo days.

I started coaching Taekwondo at a very young age – 15 years old to be exact – helping out my coach when he was not available. I believe that great coaches are like great teachers; they do not just train and teach you but are also able to inspire and make you want to be a better student. I owe a big part of my growth in the sport of Taekwondo to my coaches. – Eddie Lim, former national Taekwondo athlete[11]

In 2011, he founded Youth World Development Sdn Bhd, a platform offering quality education for youths in Malaysia. 

[A] coach’s responsibility does not just revolve around teaching technical skills – it is also about instilling positive values into a student’s lifestyle and behaviour in a more holistic manner. I wanted to reach out to more young people with this message, and that was when I started Youth World to achieve this goal. – Eddie Lim, former national Taekwondo athlete[11]

To impact the lives of students in Malaysia, Youth World conducts PT3 and SPM seminars, runs corporate campaigns in schools and aids students to seek university placements.

Since then, my team has been advocating the importance of holistic education to more than 400 schools nationwide, reaching out to more than 200,000 students over 15 years. – Eddie Lim, former national Taekwondo athlete[11]

#5: Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana Is The World’s First Hijab-Wearing Wrestler

Source: The Asean Post

The thought of being a Muslim woman, wearing a hijab and playing professional sports has been a controversial issue over the decades. Negative stereotypes along with religious misinterpretations have restricted them from fully participating in sports. However, there has been a rise in Muslim women wearing the hijab and actively participating in sports. This has inspired other Muslim hijabis to take their rightful place in the world[13].

Malaysian pro wrestler and the world’s first hijab-wearing pro wrestler – Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana, is already breaking such stereotypes and painting a new picture of what a Muslim wearing hijab can achieve.

Even though I am Muslim, and I wear the hijab, nothing can stop me from doing what I love.– Nor ‘Phoenix’ Diana, Malaysian pro wrestler[14]

When she was 15, Phoenix began her training to wrestle. At 19 years old she defeated four men and became the Malaysia Pro Wrestling Wrestlecon champion. In a male-dominated sport, she’s brought new meaning to the wrestling realm, while being a leading figure for Muslim hijabis living in fear. In 2020, Phoenix was featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list[15].

As soon as she became popular, we received a lot of messages from fellow hijabis who inquired about joining wrestling as well. – Ayez Shaukat Fonseka, Phoenix’s coach and fellow fighter[14]

#6: Pandelela Rinong Advocates Against Sexual Harassment And Abuse

Source: Borneo Post

Athletes all over the world have been victims of sexual harassment. From the abuse within America’s gymnastics that made world headlines, to the Malaysian teacher who made rape jokes in his classroom, and a local actor who joked about rape on television. All these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg as to what goes on within the context of sexual harassment.

In support of victims of sexual harassment, national diver Dato’ Pandelela Rinong has broken the silence on her sexual harassment experience. Malaysia’s first female to win an Olympic medal is a catalyst for change in calling more women to speak up. 

Pandelela shared that when she confronted a coach after he made lewd jokes, she was bullied by him. Seven years later, the same coach was charged with raping another athlete [16]

I shared my ‘not so nice’ experience to give awareness to the public and to support victims out there who are always in a dilemma of whether to speak up or stay silent. Most importantly, enablers and their backers shouldn’t be glamorised. Others may forget, but not the victim. – Dato’ Pandelela Rinong, Malaysian diver[16 ]

Although she received backlash for speaking up, it has never once dimmed her spirits to stand up for herself and for other women.

Still totally in support of #RapeJokeIsNotFunny, hoping to encourage the future ones to be brave when I wasn’t. – Dato’ Pandelela Rinong, Malaysian diver[16 ]

Explore Our Sources 

  1. Rashid, N. (2022). Olympic gymnast Farah Ann on her retirement and future plans. Link.
  2. Hasnan, L. (2019). Gender equality through sports in Malaysia. Link. 
  3. MalayMail. (2015). Selangor sultan backs Farah Ann, censures critics for picking on gymnast’s sportwear. Link.
  4. Azharie, F. (2022). ‘Fair Farah’ on the other side of the mat. Link.
  5. Tatler. (2022). Datuk Nicol Ann David. Link.
  6. Teoh, M. (2022). Squash legend Nicol David starts foundation, empowers women and children in sport. Link.
  7. Jalaluddin, J. (2022). Azizulhasni crowned Athlete of the Year at SAM Awards. Link.
  8. Jalaluddin, J. (2021). ‘Cars need servicing, so do human beings’: mental health issues plague M’sian athletes. Link.
  9. Damjanovic, J.(2021). Elite athletes more likely to experience mental health disorders: U of T study. Link.
  10. The Sun. (2021). Azizulhasni supports Green Ribbon Movement in support of mental health awareness. Link.
  11. The Sun. (2020). Leading youths to success. Link.
  12. ARFF. (2021). ARFF Brief History. Link.
  13. Nazzatussima. (2021). Hijab in Sports: How Muslim Women Athletes Are Fighting for Acceptance. Link.
  14. The Asean Post. (2017). Malaysia’s hijab-wearing wrestler breaking barriers. Link.
  15. Tatler. (2022). Nor Diana. Link.
  16. Tan, A., Sekaran, F. (2021).  Olympic diver’s revelations spark discussion on how daunting it is for victims. Link.

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