Comment by Haresh Deol in Kuala Lumpur


Is the ABL pointing the way for sports in the region? (Photo © Les Tan/Red Sports)

Kuala Lumpur, Saturday, September 4, 2010 — It was supposed to be a regional football tournament. That failed to materialised and basketball was brought into the picture instead. Why basketball, one may ask?

The only powerhouses in the region are the Philippines and Indonesia. The Thais can be a threat during the South East Asian Games but it stops there. Countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are still struggling to find commendable players, let alone the Indo-China nations. Nevertheless that didn’t stop the likes of AirAsia supremo Tony Fernandes and his band of friends from flying high.

Promises were made. The Asean Basketball League (ABL) is said to be the next best thing for basketball in the region, pitting club sides — mostly represented by their national players — against each other hoping this would elevate the standards of the sport.

Just like any other business, the pioneers were expecting monetary returns for their investment and threw in the notion that clubs were obliged to organise talent identification programmes and league for the grassroots.

The inaugural season saw lots of pomp and fair. Even the opening match between the KL Dragons and Brunei Barracudas saw the likes of local celebrities and high profile individuals jamming the MABA Stadium located in the heart of KL’s China town. Young cheerleaders, sultry usherettes to even jazz princess Atilia singing the acapella rendition of Negaraku — the league started on a high note.

The same cannot be said today. The believers continue to have faith but the very many skeptics are beginning to see that the ABL could turn out to be another major disappointment.

Perhaps the masses are to be blamed to a certain extent.

Matches are played in half-full stadium while the coverage in the local media is hardly seen. Perhaps we are still colonialised in our thinking. Just like the dumbfounded passion fans have towards the English Premier League despite England having won the World Cup only once, the ‘tidak-apa attitude’ is simply unexplainable.

Or perhaps they are right.

The league was supposed to be a training ground for the local talents but due to “pressure by certain quarters”, the KL Dragons, for one, are forced to rope in a huge number of import players. The local lads were sidelined and the foreign stars failed to shine. Observers call it a ‘lose-lose’ situation.

ABL Chief Executive Officer Kuhan Foo certainly has a lot on his plate. Kuhan is involved in the marketing arm of the Malaysian football league, better known as MSL Sdn Bhd. It will be interesting to see how Kuhan will divide his time and energy between MSL and ABL. The funds raised too will be questioned as many are still hoping to see MSL generate a steady cash flow for the Malaysian football leagues.

We can continue to be skeptical. Or perhaps we should learn how to be a little more optimistic and hope that the ABL could turn out to be the next best thing for the sport in the region.

With that, many would be intrigued to see how the league help raise the standard of the sport when the nations clash at the 2011 SEA Games in Jakarta. Perhaps, that could serve as the perfect benchmark for teams playing in the league to slamdunk their critics and dribble their way to playing good basketball.

Ed’s note: Haresh Deol, who plays a little basketball, still keeps the collector cards of Dee Brown, Larry Johnson and Larry Bird. He is a senior journalist with The Malay Mail and blogs at

Disclaimer: The above are the personal views of the author and is not reflective of Red Sports or The Malay Mail.

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