Jun 9, 2009

Malaysians make World Cup mark, behind the scene

ROKK TALK by Lazarus Rokk - June 4, 2006

GUTEN Morgen, Malaysia, welcome to the winter FIFA World Cup Germany 2006. It’s so cold in some host cities here, that the prospect of a “White World Cup” may not be all that outlandish as it would seem.

And that won’t be much fun, as apart from having to cope with the cold and the rain, all the gorgeous women – particularly the samba queens – who will be arriving from 31 countries around the world will be covered from head to toe.

Like it or not, they make every World Cup more attractive than it is, and this one won’t be looking too good if the sun doesn’t come up and the warm clothes don’t come off.

Ask the 3,000-odd Malaysian fans who had recently arrived at the little idyllic German spa town of Wangen, Allgau – the base training camp for the Malaysian team preparing for their opening Group G match against Switzerland on June 19 at Dortmund.

Embedded in the foothills of the Alps, 565m above sea level, you would think it would be cold. The Malaysian team who are not used to the cold – temperatures that went down to 6°C – were restricted to training on an artificial pitch in ski masks and gloves, to avoid ruining the natural surface after showers of hail and snow.

The Malaysians, some of whom have not seen snow, mistook it for sugar.

No, that wasn’t really a typo error. What it actually is, it is one part reality and one part fantasy. The reality is, in the words of the English here, is that it’s bloody cold for a summer, and the team that is in the base camp in Wangen is actually undergoing those conditions.

The fantasy is, Malaysia in the FIFA World Cup 2006. It seems like a natural thing to fantasise this each time you are in World Cup territory. My buddies Fauzi Omar, and Johnson Fernandez felt like that when we were in California for the World Cup USA 1994, and in Paris four years later.

I am alone here now as FIFA media officer with special duties operating from the FIFA headquarters in Berlin, and the fantasy still rages, even more now than ever.

It’s also an ego or rather a pride thing. I mean here you are in Berlin, and at least 95% of the FIFA delegates have their respective national teams represented in the World Cup here.

Not that I am paranoid, but sometimes I wonder if these delegates are wondering what am I doing here in a territory that’s totally alien to Malaysians. That, shouldn’t my slot as media officer be given to someone from a World Cup country?

Well I know I am not here because of our football or my good looks. But I can understand why a Malaysian was accorded this slot, and I guess I owe it to – apart from AFC president Mohamed Hammam who recommended me – other Malaysians who had impressed FIFA, as administrators.

Before me George Das, a former sportswriter first with The Star and then later with The New Straits Times, had done a great job as media officer in Paris.

And on other fronts, we have had Malaysians like Datuk Peter Velappan, Datuk Paul Mony Samuel, and the younger Windsor John Paul, being honoured as general co-ordinators of venues.

Here in Germany, while Paul is handling the venue at Nuremberg, Windsor has been accorded the rare honour of handling the main venue, the venue for the final – the historic Olympiastadion in Berlin.

They call him “The Boss” here, just about everyone from every continent, even from countries that have won the Jules Rimet trophy, actually make it a point to pay their respects to him.

That’s rather uncharacteristic because back home he slips into the shadow in football activities and you hardly know he is there. But here, he is a very important person, they all seek him out, they want to know him, and never fail to greet him when he is around.

As a fellow Malaysian, I feel a glow of pride each time that happens because in the FIFA football fraternity, it looks like this is the only way we Malaysians are ever going to get noticed, honoured, and respected.

Unless of course, the powers that be in Malaysian football do something about gaining some respect from our football as well.

Speaking of which, the clock is ticking, the kick-off for Germany 2006 is drawing ever nearer and the 32 participants are arriving at their training camps to prepare for the impending global showdown. At least that is the theory.

Every day, the crowds of enthusiastic fans flocking to the training grounds of the world’s elite teams grow larger. The euphoria knows no bounds. Simple shooting drills, tactical sessions and ‘five-against-two’ games are being watched by bigger crowds than some top-flight matches.

For several days, Brazilian fans in the picturesque Swiss town of Weggis have contributed to an extraordinary series of events. Against the backdrop of the Alps, about 10,000 fans have turned out to transform the world champions’ training sessions into Samba parties.

Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka and Co seem to appreciate the support, showing their gratitude by stopping to sign countless autographs before returning to the changing rooms.

Things are equally crazy in Wangen, a small German town of 21,000 that Togo have taken by storm. Since May 15, the place has been decorated with as many red, yellow and green flags as it has German ones. The daily training sessions of the Togolese team, conducted by their German coach, Otto Pfister, have become almost municipal festivals.

However, once again, it was the German national team who led the way. The hosts’ training session in Dusseldorf on Wednesday afternoon was watched by 40,000 fans, who had packed into the stadium just to see Jurgen Klinsmann put his team through their paces. Never before have Germany attracted such a big crowd just to see them train.

With crowds to watch training sessions, live broadcasts of Brazil plotting their route to the final and African folk festivals in Wangen – the World Cup has arrived in Germany.

P/S : JAIHO is grateful to Mr Lazarus Rokk, for allowing his article on Windsor Paul, to be republished here.

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