Celebrities and the public were left in awe after watching the Malaysian national blind football team in action yesterday at the Eye On The Ball: Bola Buta Challenge event by Star Media Group (SMG) and its award-winning R.AGE team.
The goal of the event was to raise support for the national blind football team, nicknamed “Harimau Buta”, whose inspiring quest to represent Malaysia at the World Cup of blind football is the subject of the upcoming Eye On The Ball cinema film by R.AGE senior producer Chen Yih Wen.
Over a thousand people showed up to watch the Harimau Buta demonstrate their jaw-dropping blind football skills, and to watch celebrities including Bunkface, Harith Iskander, Ummi Nazeera, Kyoto Protocol, and Halim Othman blindfold themselves to give the sport a try.
YouTube star Jinnyboy said the blind football team made it look so effortless.
“I thought maybe I would be able to maybe touch the ball – but I didn’t even get to touch it once!
“It was a very humbling experience. More so when we think of how the blind football team has had to overcome so many obstacles but are still doing so much for the country, and even winning gold (at the 2015 Asean Para Games), ” he said.
The Bola Buta Challenge, presented by SMG, R.AGE and CIMB Foundation, and supported by Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan, was one of the main attractions at the full-day Bulan Sukan Negara (BSN) sports festival, an initiative by the Youth and Sports Ministry.
The Harimau Buta national footballers regularly drew gasps of excitement and applause from the audience with their skills as they started the event with an exhibition match before giving way for the celebrity matches.
“It was an incredible experience! I felt inadequate but gained a higher appreciation for those in paralympic sports, ” said Kyoto Protocol frontman Fuad Alhabshi, who took part in a celebrity match against fellow rockers Bunkface.
Comedian Harith Iskander was also left in awe.
“The coach (Sunny Shalesh) told me a little of their history, and how he brought everyone together to train, ” said Harith.
“The fact that they used their prize money to contribute back to their families, that they can make a difference with their own lives… that meant the most to me.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing the film in December!”
The Harimau Buta were blown away by the support and reception they received from the celebrities and the public, who also had the chance to give blind football a try.
“It was so fun today! We wanted to promote blind football to the public as many of them have not heard of it before, ” said Harimau Buta captain Mohd Amirul Arif.
“I feel so satisfied because now more people have experienced what it’s like to be blind, and they learnt that the blind can do a lot.
“This is a team sport and it’s difficult to do it alone, which is why we need others to support us, so we can continue developing the team.”
R.AGE, SMG and campaign sponsors CIMB Foundation aim to raise support for blind football in Malaysia by donating a portion of the Eye On The Ball cinema ticket sales to the CIMB Pan-Disability Football Club.
“It’s part of a beautiful movement to create awareness that there are people without privileges and yet they persevere and become heroes, ” said SMG CEO Andreas Vogiatzakis.
Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman also pledged his support for the film and the Harimau Buta.
“I look forward to watching the Eye On The Ball film, and I implore all Malaysians to attend and give it their support, ” he said.
“It’s stories like these that make us proud to be Malaysians.”
He also pledged his support towards the National Sports Council’s efforts to assist the Harimau Buta.
Datuk Lee Chong Wei, who toured the booths with Syed Saddiq, was so inspired by the Harimau Buta that he now wants to try it for himself.
“I’m a sportsman and I think I want to learn (blind football) as well!” said Lee.
The BSN launch saw thousands of Malaysians participating in over 75 activities, including a carnival aimed at inspiring disabled Malaysians to be more active, zumba and a taekwondo exhibition.
The Bola Buta Challenge was partly sponsored by welfare organisation Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan.
It’s corporate communication and information management senior manager Ida Harlina Ikhwan Nasir said the event was important because it promotes blind football to the public and also helps motivate the (Harimau Buta) to know many people support them.
Coach Sunny hopes the event will generate more publicity for Eye On The Ball, which is scheduled to be released in cinemas this December.
“I hope all the claps and cheers we received today will translate as support for the film, ” he said.
“The film is about their wonderful journey and sacrifices to achieve their dreams. We hope Malaysia will come out to support us.”