Alvin Sallay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 January, 2011, 12:00am

Given that he once had half his skull removed, Courtney Kruger is lucky to be playing cricket in the hot noon sun in Colombo. His is an inspirational story of courage and determination to keep the flame alive, a story which is commonplace among athletes. Four years ago, Kruger was returning home after representing Hong Kong at the ACC Trophy in Kuala Lumpur when he started to get constant headaches. A check with the doctors realised the worst fears - he had an abscess in his brain.

He had a couple of operations and things began to get really dicey when the swelling in his brain resulted in a build-up of pressure that led to doctors deciding they had to saw off half his skull to relieve the pain and stress. They put it back three months later and there was a happy ending. But listening to his parents talk about it, Kruger realises how bad it was at one stage.

'I didn't realise how serious it was, but looking back, it is quite scary to think about what could have happened,' a cheerful Kruger said this week in Colombo, where he is with the Hong Kong team preparing for the ICC World Cricket League Division Three tournament to be played in Hong Kong later this month.

From being bedridden for almost half a year to be out playing cricket once more is nothing short of a miracle, but Kruger says in his mind there was never any doubt he would put the pads on again. It is a good thing as far as the Hong Kong team are concerned, too: the 22-year-old batsman is now seen as a future captain. He is deputy to Najeeb Amar for the World Cricket League tournament and is expected to take over the reins once Najeeb calls it quits.

Kruger's story is an example of a sportsman's determination to stick to the game he loves and play on, surmounting all obstacles. There are many stories like his, all over Hong Kong and in other sports. The pursuit of glory is a common denominator for athletes. The struggle to strive to reach the top can come in many forms but the familiar thread is the hunger to achieve distinction for your country.

Kruger's parents are South African. He studied in Hong Kong and went through the system here. He now regards Hong Kong as his home. He says he 'looks forward to the honour of leading my country'.

The Hong Kong cricket team comprises many of his ilk. There are players of Pakistani and Indian nationality, who have either been born in Hong Kong or who have lived most their lives here, carrying the flag with pride. It is not something unique to cricket; many other sports also have 'outsiders' representing Hong Kong. This is the beauty of this multi-cultural city of many races and religions.

Other major team sports like rugby and hockey also have many athletes like Kruger, with an increasing number having been born in Hong Kong and who regard this city as their home. What has been normal for Hong Kong is now becoming widespread across the world thanks to immigrant movement. In cricket, you see a potpourri of players representing other countries. You get Indians and South Africans representing England, Pakistanis representing Australia and so on. Rugby has people born in one country playing for another. China has exported its table tennis talent far and wide. Kenyans run under a host of different flags. Sport epitomises the global village.

Money plays a huge role in all this movement. African middle-distance runners or Brazilian footballers follow the scent of lucre. And there are enough nations willing to bend the law a bit to accommodate them. But as far as Hong Kong is concerned, there are genuine reasons why people move here and, with time, become implanted, resulting in their sons and daughters representing this city. For these athletes, as well as those locally born, the chance to represent their hometown matters a lot. And if that means playing in front of a home crowd, it is even more special. Imagine if Kruger were to lead Hong Kong on to the field in 2023 at the Asian Games, wherever they may be. What a proud day that would be for him and for others like him.

The athletes have already said they would be especially proud to compete in front of their home fans. Home-ground advantage lifts a team or an individual. We saw that at the East Asian Games in 2009 when the men's soccer team, spurred on by a full house at the Hong Kong Stadium, sprung a major surprise by defeating Japan in the gold medal match.

Right now, our legislators are hell bent on denying our athletes the chance to figure in front of their own fans, decrying the bid for the 2023 Asian Games as too costly an exercise. They have come up with loads of reasons, all of them centred on money, as to why we shouldn't bid for the Games.

Can any of these detractors spell out why we should deny our athletes their moment in the sun? For people like Kruger, the Asian Games in Hong Kong would be the apex of their careers, a once-in-a-lifetime chance of walking out in front of a home crowd at the world's second biggest multi-sports event.

For a man who was on the verge of death, anything is a bonus. I didn't ask Kruger what he thought of an Asian Games being played in Hong Kong. There was no need, for every local athlete would relish that opportunity. .

Don't deny them these dreams.