As the year 2021 looms to a close, it is safe to say that the sporting scene in Brunei Darussalam has been unsurprisingly quiet and inactive for the most part, largely due to the adverse effects and complications brought by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The closure of indoor and outdoor sports facilities and complexes, prohibition of mass gatherings and continued travel restrictions have all contributed to the absence of sporting activities including competitions, workshops and seminars both locally and abroad.
It also hasn’t been plain sailing for the local governing sporting bodies, which saw their plans heavily disrupted amid the cancellation of tournaments.
Nevertheless, there were promising signs at the start of the year, as selected sports were allowed to organise competitions following revised guidelines of de-escalation measures.
As sports facilities were open for training since the second half of last year, organising competitions for both team and individual sports received the green light in March amid an improved COVID-19 situation and reduction of social distancing measures in the country.
As part of the guidelines and with standard operating procedures in place, only a certain number of people were allowed to enter the competition venues.
The 37th National Day Celebration Squash Championship held at the National Squash Centre of the Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex represented one of the first tournaments this year.
During the competition, Kyran Young claimed the top gong after a straight-set victory over Pengiran Hasnan bin Pengiran Anak Haji Rozanan in the men’s open final.
The former Wycliff College pupil became the second foreign player to win a local tournament after Malaysian junior star Harith Daniel Jefri in the BSRA 1st Suci Challenge Trophy Squash Tournament in 2019.
A week later, the Brunei Darussalam Golf Association (BDGA) – the country’s governing body for golf – organised the maiden Sonax Cup.
Golf produced memorable sporting moments inspired by the rivalry between talents Awangku Md Syakir bin Pengiran Haji Alli and Mohd Aritz Maldini bin Haji Abdul Majid.
The two have constantly battled for the top prizes in the country and it was no surprise that they were billed as genuine title contenders.
However, it was veteran Suhaimi Ibrahim who grabbed the limelight when he navigated his way to win the Sonax Cup at the Pantai Mentiri Golf Club (PMGC) yet again.
Looking at how the year panned out overall, few might argue that the most in-form player in golf is none other than Awangku Md Syakir. The national athlete won the 31st Pantai Mentiri Amateur Open Golf Championship title by eight shots in June, marking his second triumph in three appearances at the Mentiri-based venue.
His national teammate, Mohd Aritz Maldini, had a similar impact after lifting the 21st Pusat Ehsan Charity Golf Tournament in July, subsequently collecting the second of three coveted trophies in the country.
It was a sense of familiarity in local basketball as Easyway Basketball returned to the summit following victories in the 5.11 National Basketball League and the You-C1000 Basketball Cup in May and July.
Having fielded a number of experienced players in the team who have tasted success, TK Tea House romped to glory in the 5.11 Veteran Basketball League in June.
In June, the highly-anticipated Brunei Netball National League 2021 organised by the Brunei Netball Association (BNA) was finally launched following a lengthy wait.
The tournament saw national players separated into the six teams while local coaches put the knowledge they grasped during a workshop late last year to the test.
The Brunei Amateur Swimming Association (BASA) also made efforts to revive the swimming scene with the 28th Brunei Age Group Swimming Championships (Long Course) in April and the 5th Brunei Sprints and Masters (Short Course) Swimming Championships.
A number of new national records were also registered in both tournaments with rising junior star Hayley Wong breaking a longstanding record of 31 years.
The teenage swimming sensation recorded a time of 2:55.10s in the women’s 200-metre breaststroke, thus lowering the time of 2:55.62s previously set by Nuralia binti Abdul Rahim in 1990.
For the Brunei Super League (BSL), the country’s top football league division, a season was also briefly held though it has since been cancelled, and saw the return of football powerhouse DPMM FC for the first time since the early 2000s.
Futsal also returned from a four-year long absence with teams divided into two groups in the newly-revamped Brunei Futsal League (BFL).
Meanwhile, in running, the Brunei Run in conjunction with the United Nations (UN) International Day of Sport for Development and Peace turned out to be a success despite a maximum cap of 250 participants in compliance with national COVID-19 guidelines.
With the country in search of long distance runners to represent the country in the international scene, Khairul Anuar bin Ramli’s reputation exceeds others as one of the leading runners after winning the men’s 10-kilometre category.
Despite being primarily absent in international competitions, the Sultanate was represented in the Tokyo Olympics by national sprinter Mohd Firdaus Ar-Rasyid bin Haji Mohd Idris and swimmer Muhammad Isa bin Ahmad.
For all the promise in the first half of this year, the sporting scene was hit with another setback following the second wave of infections in early August. Despite being familiar with the measures and restrictions having had the same experience in March last year, the suspension of sports activities and events and postponement of upcoming events led to another period of uncertainty as the country battled with the virus.
While the country’s sporting scene remained at a standstill, Bruneians who were based overseas excelled in their disciplines this year.
In October, Brunei swimmer Nur Haziq Ismail swam his way to three national open records in the men’s 400-metre, 800-metre and 1500-metre freestyle events at the TSA-AIMG swim meet at the Assumption University Suvarnabhumi Campus in Bangkok, Thailand.
The national swimmer is currently on a FINA scholarship based in Thanyapura, Phuket.
Elsewhere in Ireland, national fencer Wardatul Izzah binti Haji Ahmad Ramzuna claimed the silver medal in the women’s sabre event at the Irish Open. The country eased restrictions with the re-opening of indoor and outdoor sport facilities in November, though physical competitions are still put on hold.
Earlier this month, national swimmers Muhammad Isa bin Ahmad and Christian Nikles represented the country in the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships (25-metre) at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The pair, accompanied by national coach Wu Na, also finalised their preparations in their training base in Dubai in the build-up to the prestigious world meet.
Muhammad Isa made back-to-back history after setting two new national short course records with times of 1:04.09s in the men’s 100-metre breaststroke and 29.32s in the men’s 50-metre breaststroke.