Sabah Dragon Boat Race - A silver jubilee augurs well
The 25th Sabah dragon boat race on June 19 and 20 was a double joy. The silver jubilee race had the most number of participants:1,900 in 78 teams, five of them foreign. And though the number is less than half of Sweden’s, Europe’s biggest, it has been celebratory.
The Sabah race has to compete with bigger and more prestigious races around the world such as those in China, Hong Kong, Europe and Canada which are held at the same time every year in June; not forgetting the 1Malaysia international dragon boat race at Putra Jaya on the peninsula. Its first race in 1986 had about 30 local teams to mark a traditional Chinese Duanwu dumpling festival before it became a tourism event that courted foreigners two years later.
The prize money is small. Yet the enthusiasm is immense. A crew of 44 of the Sandakan Fishing (Tongkang) Association won races in the men’s and mixed events which gave them 5,000 ringgit ($1,500) in total prize money. But the association has spent more than 14,000 ringgit on airfares and hotel accommodation, according to team manager Bartholomew Pang.
Yet, it has never missed a festival race. Last year it took part in China’s second biennial Minxi Shanghang festival and finished 8th out of 12 teams.
“It’s our way of keeping our culture alive,” says Lee Fung Mei, 16, the youngest participant of the race. “I like the race because it is tough and challenging.”
It is for this reason that the dragon boat race has been included in this year’s Asian Games at Guangzhou, China, from November 12 to 27. It has become the fastest growing water sport in more than 60 countries since the International Dragon Boat Federation was formed 25 years ago to regulate the race.
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