SO we have a world champion in an Olympic sport for the first time and it wasn’t by accident, it was something that was destined to happen as soon as Azizulhasni Awang was put on the path some 15 years ago.
I say that because among many, this was a special one that sprang up from the backwaters of Dungun and not only did he stand out from the start, he weathered several storms that threatened to end his career — both through prejudice over his size and through his own flaws.
The accolades will pour in again, just as it did when he emerged with the country’s first ever Olympic medal in cycling just eight months ago, but unlike his flawed reaction in a controversial post-medal ceremony Facebook posting last August, this time Azizulhasni simply basked in the glory he so deserved, respectably.
If the Olympic medal did not sway Azizulhasni from his focus, then this historic milestone and the honour of riding with the world champion’s rainbow jersey until the next World Championships, should not either.
If there is anything that should change, it should be within his sport, in his own country.
It should inject the belief, the respect and it should open minds that were previously clogged by dilapidated concepts of sports administration.
True, Azizulhasni called for cyclists to unite and move the sport forward, but it isn’t just the cyclists who should be inspired by the knowledge that a world champion now roams our shores.
It should change mindsets through the belief this fact now injects.
For every special one like Azizulhasni that emerges, history also tells us there were a hundred more who did not get the same opportunities. Opportunities that Azizulhasni himself had to fight to gain and fight to sustain.
It should wake up, more than anybody else, the long slumbered Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) and point to the number of young cyclists who have been denied opportunities to compete for reasons known only to the federation’s powerbrokers.
This should also relate to the numbers of young cyclists who were denied progress along the years simply by the choking development structure that has lacked sufficient competitions and structured programmes, before the sports ministry stepped in with a slight but costly improvement through the Junior Cycling Malaysia (JCM) programme.
All this, while the sport’s legal guardians the MNCF could do little but repeat the line that they are straddled with a seemingly everlasting lack of finances to develop the sport themselves.
Yes the sport has, at least in the past two decades, never struggled to produce despite the high turnover of talents going in and out of national programmes.
Why? Because cycling has not only boomed at the enthusiast level in the past decade, its mosquito bike culture has long flourished in providing a steady flow of talents.
Thus this should tell us that we shouldn’t be looking at the flaws but the prowess of children on bicycles who roam the streets on mosquito bikes, because Azizulhasni has confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that it is possible to pick up one of those kids and turn them into world champions.
What this shouldn’t do is trigger the mushrooming of multi-million ringgit programmes scheming for the next Azizulhasni, when it did not require such programmes to discover him in the first place.
All it required was heart and desire of a little kampung boy and a reasonable platform where opportunities to progress were laid out via the National Sports Council (NSC). If there isn’t enough of such platforms, then that is what should be expanded.
It wasn’t rocket science either. It wasn’t as if a vast net was cast to scour the depths of the nation to discover this talent, because such talents are in abundance if we only put aside our usual concepts of talent identification and development and look, feel with our hearts.
We need to understand that this is the result of a culture that has embedded itself within our youth, where the bicycle is readily loved by children around the country, who now most definitely have every reason to harbour dreams of becoming world champions themselves.
We are not bringing a fridge to sell to Eskimos, but we must now realise that we are in a land where the bicycle is already to many of its children, what a football is to a Brazilian child.
But while a Brazilian with a football at his feet has always been relentless in moving forward, a Malaysian on his bicycle has faced more obstacles brought about by both social prejudice and archaic, dilapidated administrative concepts that feed most mindsets.
Thus now, the significance of having a world champion, is that it should inspire such changes, in the general mindsets before government budgets.
It can start with you. When you spot a group of mosquito bike riders on the street, you should now look at them differently. Each time you pass a cyclist on the road, show them more respect than you used to.
Because in Malaysia today, they are all representing a world champion.