He is a man for all seasons and is known by many names — Man with the Midas touch, the godfather of Malaysian sport, Malaysian sports saviour, sports icon of Malaysia, the gift to sport, man wearing many caps, sports sheriff, white knight et al.
Elyas is equally, if not better, known for his visionary ideas in the administrative fi eld that broke new ground.
However, it was only when he was the third Lord Mayor of Kuala Lumpur from 1981 to 1992 that Elyas’ popularity grew, especially among the city folk, who enjoyed a “new city” under him.
As mayor of Kuala Lumpur, Elyas introduced numerous changes to the management, beautification and development of the city, which included privatising several of the projects and activities undertaken by City Hall.
These projects included new townships through the redevelopment of squatter areas, an improved transport system (LRT and monorail), development of a sports township (Bandar Tun Razak) where an international-standard stadium, velodrome and a badminton hall were built, and the creation of a sports-cum-technology town which became the venue for the 1998 Commonwealth Games (Bukit Jalil).
Elyas also conceptualised the Kuala Lumpur City Centre with the Petronas Twin Towers and Merdeka Square, boasting of the tallest fl ag pole in the world.
Bowling sought him first
The bowling community was among the fi rst to recognise Elyas’ brilliance, with the Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Congress appointing him their patron in the early 1980s.
Elyas became much sought after in the sports fraternity and he soon became involved in football, badminton and cycling. Among his notable achievements in sport was when he turned the Kuala Lumpur football team into a professional set-up by engaging world-renowned coach Dr Josef Venglos and engaging professional players.
With a firm development programme in place, the Kuala Lumpur team went on to become Malaysia Cup champions for three consecutive years from 1987 to 1989 and won all trophies at stake before 1990.
“This was among the memorable moments of my involvement in sports, where we managed to see the city team transform from minnows to giants over a short period with proper planning and contribution from the best like Dr Venglos,” said Elyas proudly.
At national level, as president of the Badminton Association of Malaysia from 1986 to 1994, Elyas was largely instrumental in the sport regaining its lost glory when Malaysia won the Thomas Cup in 1992.
“Winning the Thomas Cup after waiting for 25 years was indeed sweet. This is another memorable moment for me in sports.”
Cycling, too, enjoyed steady growth and success with Elyas heading the national body from 1984 to 1988.
Elyas was also vice-president of the Football Association of Malaysia from 1984 to 1998 and managed the National Youth Squad from 1994 to 1997 for the 1997 Youth World Cup in Malaysia.
With Elyas at the helm,badminton cycling and football were at the forefront of Malaysian sports. — Picture by Zuraneeza Zulkifli
Experience saw him recognised
Elyas’ vast experience in various fields also saw him become adviser to the president and the government of Senegal in 2004, a position he held for more than a year.
The former KL mayor was made the Sports Commissioner of Malaysia in 2005 and remained in the post until 2008.
He is currently non-executive independent director and chairman of several companies.
For his invaluable contribution to Malaysian sport, Elyas was inducted into the Olympic Council of Malaysia’s Hall of Fame in 2007.
His other accolades include the Man of the Year Award from New Straits Times/Sports Toto in 1988, National Sports Leadership Award in 1990 and the Man of the Year Award for Sports Leadership by the Sports Writers Association of Malaysia in 1992.
Elyas, who turns 78 on Nov 16, is still dispensing advice to whoever seeks it.
Another dream in the offing
He still has dreams to leave another legacy for Malaysian football which he will disclose when plans are finalised.
“This is my personal contribution to Malaysian football. I am now seeking the money which is round RM10 million to get it off the ground.”
Asked if he had any regrets in his tenure in sports, he said: “I wished my departure from City Hall was not premature. I was supposed to serve my term till 1994, but was prematurely evicted in 1992 through no fault of mine. There were many who were envious of me and wanted me out.
"If I had two more years, maybe I would have put Malaysian sport on a better footing.
Yes, I did a lot. But maybe it was not enough. Look at badminton now. We have tremendous talent which surfaced, but it was still not good enough to sustain our superiority. Maybe I could have done something more.”
Parting words on sports
On how Malaysian sport can improve, he said it needs a complete overhaul. “It is time for fresh blood to step in with fresh ideas. We need people who are passionate and seriously interested in the development of sports and not have their own agendas.”
Elyas has indeed devoted almost a lifetime to Malaysian sport and is still passionate to contribute. Indeed a true icon.