Tue, 23 May 2000

Rejoice in victory

Indonesia's victory in the Thomas Cup in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday provided a welcome celebration for the nation that has been mired in a seemingly endless crisis for the past three years. Retaining the prestigious men's badminton team event for the fourth consecutive time since 1994 could not have come at a better moment to shore up our sagging confidence as a nation.

Nothing seems to be going right for Indonesia this year. Politically, the country remains fragile and divided, with ethnic and sectarian violence flaring in Maluku, North Maluku and Aceh and our political elite bickering among themselves over trivialities. The economy remains firmly in the doldrums, without a real prospect of recovery in the near future. The Thomas Cup victory and the players' expected gold medal haul at the Sydney Olympics will probably be the only bright spots for Indonesia this year. Reflecting on how we managed to win the cup at a difficult time like this could probably shed some light on we should approach some of the country's problems.

Indonesia can be justly proud of winning the coveted cup for the 12th time and the reaffirmation of the country's stature as one of the sport's powerhouses. Badminton, a major national pastime, may be the only sport where Indonesia excels internationally. Yet the Thomas Cup, which Indonesia first won in 1958 as a fledgling independent nation, shows the country can succeed when it focuses on a goal. All it takes is to apply that principle to other sports and we should become a major sporting nation, in the region if not the world, in keeping with our status as the world's fourth largest nation.

As our Thomas Cup players will testify, they took nothing for granted although they went to Kuala Lumpur as the favorite. Much hard work went into preparations, not only in the rigorous training of recent months, but also the many years of talent scouting and grooming of players by the coaches. On the day it counted most, Hendrawan, Rexy Mainaky, Tony Gunawan and Taufik Hidayat never buckled in facing the Chinese players.

They and the rest of the Thomas Cup team have done the nation proud, both in bringing the trophy home and in showing that we can be a great nation when we aspire to be.

Unlike the year-round grand prix tournaments, the Thomas Cup is not an individual event in which a player fights for individual glory and riches. A team event calls for a concerted effort by all players in the spirit of achieving a shared goal. Although the Indonesian team was made up of athletes from divergent backgrounds, they held a common purpose: To win the trophy. Each of the players did their bit as expected.

The team in its way is a microcosm of what the nation-building process in a diverse country like Indonesia is all about. Coming a day after Indonesia marked National Awakening Day, the victory is a reminder that national unity and nation-building can only be achieved through hard work, and not in the endless, tiring rhetoric our leaders seem to enjoy.

As we welcome home our Thomas Cup heroes, we must reflect on what the win means for our nation at one of the low points in its history. We should take stock of the great things we can achieve if united and if each of us is willing to do our share, as the Thomas Cup players did for their country.