IN any sport, there are officials to ensure it is run in a proper and orderly manner. They take charge of the event from start to finish.
Normally, these officials do not get accolades if they discharge their duties well. Only when a controversy arises with some decisions or comments made during the course of the game, will they be highlighted.
Umpires, referees, commentators, presenters and pundits are part and parcel of the sporting fraternity. They go about their duties in a professional way without much fanfare, as compared to the players who are always in the limelight.
We should pay tribute to them for their unconditional support and contributions to the world of sports. Credit has to be given where and when it is due.
The first person that comes to mind is none other than Malaysian G. Vijayanathan, a world-class hockey umpire. He was the No. 1(1972-1976) hockey umpire in the world due to his astute ability.
In 1975, Viji did Malaysia proud by officiating at the finals of the World Cup between arch rivals India and Pakistan, held in Kuala Lumpur. He received rave reviews for his handling of the match. It was a memorable and eventful day for me to witness the spectacle live at Merdeka Stadium.
The charismatic Rahim Razali is another who was a revelation. Being fluent in Malay and English, was a plus point. I still remember my schooling days vividly of him presenting the SEAP (now SEA) Games in 1971 in Kuala Lumpur. He took to the task like a duck to water. He had a really cool, calm and collective demeanour.
Another event that he anchored admirably was the Muhammad Ali fights. His in-depth knowledge of each sport gave him the confidence and advantage to undertake any assignment nonchalantly.
Going back to the days of listening to live radio commentaries, R. Jeyanathan has to be mentioned. He was an accomplished broadcaster. The voice of Jeyanathan, dubbed the Golden Voice of Sport, was on air at major sporting events over Radio Malaysia (now RTM) in the mid 1960s. The whole family would be glued to the AEG valve set radio, listening to his badminton running commentary, rattling names like Tan Yee Khan, Ng Boon Bee, Rudy Hartono and Punch Gunalan. His famous “Drrrrrop by Aik Huang”, meaning a drop shot, is still firmly etched in my memory.
Fast forward to the present, we have Adam Carutthers and Michelle Lee pulling the strings when it is English Premier League match day.
Adam is superb with his free flowing manner of presenting the entire programme for the day, interacting with the pundits with ease and panache.
Michelle draws people into the world of football with her charming personality. Each time she appears on television, her radiant smile and infectious attitude shine through.
In cricket, we have Michael Holding, a legend. He was a stellar cricketer, and then became a brilliant and treasured broadcaster. Holding has the most recognisable voice in cricket broadcasting, and he is revered for it. He had things to say too. Few have been more trenchant or honest comments or opinions on the game.
Badminton had co-commentators “Mr Badminton”, Morten Frost, and the Voice of Badminton, Gillian Clarke. They were class acts. It was a joy to listen to their exquisite commentary. Their knowledge of the game and command of English is simply magnificent. Frost and Clarke knew the Asian players and their families well. They shared an intimacy with them.
On to football, Pierluigi Collina, an Italian, was named Fifa’s “Best Referee of the year” six consecutive times, and is widely considered to be the best football referee of all time. His trademark piercing eyes did not need VAR (Video Assistant Referee) review!
Lastly, my favourite pundit, Gary Steven, the ex-England midfielder. With his mellifluous voice, he gave his views and opinions in a simple and articulate way, and most importantly, was not biased at all.
These are just a token few of the unsung heroes who graced the sporting field in one way or another, without fear or favour, but with love and passion, for the betterment of world sports.