Icons – Datuk G. Vijayananthan
By TONY MARIADASS
It is rare and a great honour to have an entire stadium stand on their feet and sing one a birthday song or give a standing ovation. Both were given to Datuk Vijayananthan Gulasingam.
Fondly known as VG or Viji, his name is synonymous with the history of hockey in the country and worldwide.
Just turned 83 on Nov 7, Viji is also known as ‘Mr Hockey’, was then Malaysian Hockey Federation (now Malaysian Hockey Confederation) general secretary for 26 years (1959 – 1985) serving under three presidents – the late Tun Abdul Razak Datuk Hussein (1959 – 1976), the late Datuk Hussein Onn (1977 -1981) and the late former Sultan of Perak Raja Azlan Shah (1981 -1985).
Viji working as a volunteer and known for managing MHF matters from the booth off his car with stool and his ever reliable portable typewriter has certainly gone to make a name for himself in the world of hockey not only as an administrator but an international hockey umpire and technical delegate.
Most memorable moments
It was at the 23rd FIH Rabobant Champion Trophy in Holland in November 2001 that 5,000 fans stood up and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Viji.
“One of the officials who overheard calls from my wife and children wishing me happy birthday had told the organisers about it. Just before the start of the last match of the day on Nov 7 (Korea v Holland), Bob Davidson, the chairman of the organising committee insisted that I follow him to the centre of the field to inspect it,” recalled Viji who was the technical delegate for the tournament.
“To my greatest shock and excitement the “Happy Birthday’ song was played and the moment we had reached the centre of the field, the entire crowd stood up and joined in the singing.
“I was really taken aback and tried very hard to keep my tears from rolling down. This gesture of the fans of Holland is a wonderful gift which I shall never forget.”
Another moment etched in the memories of Viji was after the final of the 2nd World Cup also in Amsterdam between Holland and India on 2nd September, 1973 where he was umpiring.
“It was a pleasant surprise when I was told that the FIH president then, Rene Frank, has decided that the best umpires must officiate the final regardless if they were from Asia or Europe. That was how I got appointed to umpire the final together with Horacio from Argentina,” said Viji who was rated the World No 1 umpire then.
“The game was electrifying and ended tied at 1-1 after extra time and Holland went to win their first ever major success by winning on penalty stroke.
As both Horacio and I walked back across the field towards main stadium, the entire crowd gave us a standing ovation which I have never experienced before.”
Viji besides his car, his house was the office of MHF.
“I purchased my own typewriter on instalment basis from the small salary I earned as a clerk,” said Viji who trained as a teacher but ended up in the Selangor Education Department
“Even for the 1975 3rd World Cup which Malaysia hosted taking over from India, Tun Abdul Razak offered the Dewan Tunku Abdul Rahman to be used as the secretariat.
“It was trying times for the sport of hockey, but we still managed well and did well in the game too.
“I was not paid a single cent during my 26 years I served as the MHF secretary or for all the travels to FIH meetings. I had to fork out my own money and my late wife Rajaletchchmy for 51 years was a tremendous support,” said Viji who relinquished the post in 1985.
“But despite the lack of remunerations, I loved every minute I was involved in the sport. It was a sad day for me to tender in my resignation, but it was a condition the Royal Selangor Golf Club imposed, where I was joining as their Sports Manager. It was a well-paid job and I needed the money to put my children through their education.”
Viji was also the secretary of the Selangor Hockey Association from 1959 to 1962. He gave up the post to concentrate on his work with MHF.
But what many may now know is that he served football long before hockey.
He served as the assistant secretary of the Football Association of Selangor for eight years from 1956 to 1963 and secretary for two years from 1963.
Viji was also a part time sports reporter with The Malay Mail in 1964, but stopped after a while because his conscious did not allow him to be an administrator of the game and then write about it too.
“I could earn about 100 to 120 dollars and it was big money then. But after a few months, I decided to stop as I felt it was not ethical,” said Viji.
Sports has been in Viji’s blood from young as schoolboy who started off by playing cricket for the Tamilians’ Physical Cultural Assocaition (TPCA).
And it was by chance that he took up hockey when he was standing on the sidelines to watch TPCA play in a Division Two match after his cricket practice.
“One of the players failed to turn up and C. Arumugam, who was in charge of the hockey team, asked me to go and change and take his place,” recalled Viji.
“From that day, I became a regular player and played for them for 25 years – till 1981.”
Rise as umpire
Viji initially registered as Grade 3 umpire with the MHF Umpires’ Board in March 1964 rose to become Grade One international umpire in 1971 under the revised FIH list. Earlier he was accorded International Class One umpire in 1969. It was only Grade One umpires who were permitted to officiate at the Olympic Games.
Among the international tournaments Viji has umpired include the Tehran Asian Games in 1974 and 1976 Bangkok Asian Games (officiated in final in both Games); four World Cups – 1973 Amsterdam, 1975 Kuala Lumpur, 1978 Argentina and Bombay 1981/82. He officiated in the final in Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur.
He was umpired in two Olympics (Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976) and missed out the third of Malaysia’s boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games.
He has also officiated in four Champions Trophy championships in Pakistan (1978), Perth (1979), Karachi (1980 and 1981).
Viji is also known for awarding the goal that gave India a 2-1 win over Pakistan and winning the World Cup in 1975 at the Merdeka Stadium.
“I have had numerous phone calls and letters inquiring about the winning goal then and had wanted to write but on second thought, decided forget he issue,” said Viji.
But Viji finally gave his explanation when he wrote his book “The Memoirs of ‘Mr Hockey’ in 2012 in a dedication to his wife Rajaletchmy who passed away in 2010 while holidaying and was on the last leg in Barcelona.
“The ball which was pushed in by Askok Kumar on India had crossed the goal line at a point about one foot away from the upright post. I was so close to the incident that I clearly saw the whole ball crossing the goal line but within a split second it had struck something and had rebounded into play,” Viji had explained in his book.
“This baffled me for a moment and I delayed, by a split second in blowing for goal as I wanted to be very sure of my decision. If the ball had struck the goal boards, then I would have heard a clear sound. If the ball had struck the upright post – either at its side or front – it could have been clearly noticed by me for I was very close to the incident.
“The ball had actually struck the peg which was placed against goal boards about a foot away from the upright. I then decided to award the goal and blew my whistle.”
Vii till today cannot understand why many refer it as a disputed goal because a goal can only be termed disputed if an official protest – in writing – was made to the technical delegate after the game. Pakistan made no official protest.”
His only regret as an umpire was that he was that he was deprived on two occasions from umpiring the finals at the Munich and Montreal Olympics.
“But I have had the privilege of attending nine Olympics under various capacities and I suppose it is a record by itself I can be very proud off,” Viji consoled himself.
Viji was the assistant team manager for the 1964 Malaysian team to the Tokyo Olympics and the Mexico Games in 1968, umpire at the 1972 Munich, 1976 in Montreal and 1980 Moscow Olympics (boycotted), technical director for 1984 Los Angeles Games, judge for Seoul Games in 1988, Assistant technical delegate for 1992 Barcelona Games, tournament director for 1996 Atlanta Games and Technical officer for the 2000 Sydney Games.
Viji has a string of awards including the ‘Gold Medal’ from Pakistan president Gen Zia-ul-Haq, ‘Lathouwers Medal’, Sports Leadership Award, Diploma of Merit from FIH, inducted to the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame and the Brand Laureate Grand Master Icon award for his contribution to hockey.
Viji regarded as the encyclopaedia of hockey has indeed done well to pen down all his experiences, knowledge, his history and his family which was mooted by his daughter Anushya who had kept a scrap book titled “All about my father and hockey.’
The 638 page book edited by journalist R. Nadeswaran is a collector’s item which Viji had printed 1,118 copies and distributed to his family members and friends in the hockey circle as a gift from him.
His legacy will definitely live on forever.