ICON: DATUK JAMES SELVARAJ
All of Datuk James Selvaraj’s life, from the time he was born till now, nothing has been his greater love than badminton.
His love for badminton was deep that he decided to skip his honeymoon and answer national duties when he left for New Zealand for the Thomas Cup qualifiers two days after his wedding to Veronica Anne on 4th July 1981.
“I had planned my wedding earlier and the qualifiers dates clashed. I could not change my wedding dates. I decided to postpone my honeymoon and leave my wife behind and answer national duties,” recalled James.
James who turns 65 on Nov 21, was born and bred at the Selangor Badminton Association (SBA) in Kampong Attap, where his late Muthiah Joseph, was the caretaker of the hall for 45 years.
Although badminton was Selvaraj’s passion having seen thousands of badminton players play in SBA including top international players, he was only allowed to play in the hall when he was seven.
“For some reason my father never allowed me to play in the hall. I started to play at the age of four but made my badminton racquet with a wooden stick and hammered a cardboard to it and were hitting outside the hall. I still remember it made so much noise each time we hit,” said James with a laugh.
“I got my first racquet from F.A.L. Gonzaga, the Selangor Badminton Association secretary, who was also a good cricketer. The brand of the racquet was Eagle. It was then I was played in the hall whenever there was no bookings or teams playing were short of players.
“My father was my mentor who was always there to guide and advise me.”
James had two older brothers who were also involved in badminton. The eldest brother, J.S. Peter was the Malaysian Indian champion when he beat Sri Lanka’s national champion in an international Indians tournament held in Malaysia. Another brother, Franics Selvanayagam was a Thomas Cup trainee for the 1967 squad.
But it was James who carved a name for himself both locally and internationally.
However, James revealed that he was interested in hockey but knocks and bruises saw his father discourage him. He was also very active as cross country runner. And it was his love for running which saw him run every Saturday afternoon from his home in Kampong Attap to Jalan Ipoh in hot afternoon sun which covered about 12 kilometres.
“Those runs served me, well as I was fit.”
James prowess in the game started showing when he was a nine-year-old primary school student of St John’s Institution and won the Under-12 title. He went on to be the Under-15 and Under-18 Selangor schools champion and was the Under-18 schools national champion.
He also brought St John’s Institution honours when he helped them win the national schools’ champions title for the King’s Cup in 1965 when he had played against the likes of Tan Yee Khan and Ng Boon Bee.
James had his first taste of coaching when he returned to St John’s Institution to coach Moo Foot Lian and Bernard Lee for the King’s Cup. Foot Lian became his national doubles teammate.
In 1968 James won the novices, junior and senior tournament in the same year.
From there he went on to represent Selangor state in the Inter-state Foong Seong Cup tournament,
followed by the Khir Johari trophy. He represented Selangor from 1968 to 1982. During this time he represented the country in various international tournaments including three Thomas Cup Series 1975/76, 1978/79 and 1981/82.
In the 1975/76 Thomas Cup series he was a member of the team who were
runner-up to Indonesia. The other members were Phua Ah Hua, Saw Swee Leong, Dominic Soong, Cheah Hong Chong and Foot Lian.
The young inexperienced Malaysian team upset favourites Denmark 5-4 in the semifinals before the team who were called “Punch’s babes” were beaten 9-0 in the final. The Danish had the liked of Svend Pri, Flemming Delfs and Steen Skovgaard
James recalled how earlier in the qualifiers against Singapore, the tie had to be postponed by three weeks because he and Ah Hua were involved in a car accident two weeks before the tie in Singapore.
“It happened in front of the National Mosque when suddenly bees got into our car and I who was driving the car was frantically driving to ward of the bees taking my hands off the steering wheel. Next thing we know we had crashed against a lamp-post,” recalled Selvaraj.
“We had to be warded since we did not have stand-by players and the tie was postponed. I injured my knee and had bruises and cuts and my face, while Ah Hua had facial injuries. I recovered to play but Ah Hua did.
“We were already rated as no hopers before the qualifiers and to have reached the final was indeed a feat.”
James other notable achievements include being National Badminton Champion from 1974 – 1976, World Invitation Badminton Tournament 1975 – semi-finalist, Sea Games - bronze medallist 1977 and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist 1978.
James retired after his third Thomas Cup appearance in 1981, but as a contended man.
“I may not have played in the Asian Games and badminton was not in the Olympics when I was playing, but I am still a contended person.
“It was my passion to play international badminton and be known and I achieved my dream. I certainly have no regrets.
“Even after retiring, I was still involved in badminton as a coach and high performance director with the Badminton Association of Malaysia” said James who was the national badminton coach from 1982 to 1985 and High Performance Director from 2010 to 2012.
As coach, James had coached Razif Sidek and Ong Beng Teong to the Commonwealth Games gold medal in Brisbane on 1982.
James also has the distinction of being the chef-de-mission for the Asian Beach Games in Oman in 2011 and was the deputy chef de mission of the Malaysian contingent to the XX Commonwealth Games in Scotland last year.
“Even at work with Bata, whom I joined in 1980, I work closely with badminton having conducted coaching clinics and involved in Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) work.
“I am indeed grateful to my employers, Bata, who have been very supportive when I was playing, coaching and working with BAM as a director of coaching. Even when I retired six years ago, I was still retained by Bata to be with their corporate communications division as their senior manager for advertising, promotions and sponsorship,” said James joined Bata as a sports division supervisor progressed from Power brand manager to Power brand regional manager for eastern Asia and then a four-year stint as merchandising manager before assuming his current position
James’s standing in the sporting arena only continues to grow as Bata brand is by his side, sponsoring the Malaysian contingent at the Commonwealth Games with Power shoes and Bata men’s and women’s shoes.
In 2005, James was fitting inducted to the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame.
On current badminton status, James it is about time that BAM start going out to look for players in the outskirts and not wait for players to come to them.
“I am glad that BAM’s technical director Morten Frost has said that he is going to emphasis on development and look for new players throughout the country.
James said his only regret was as High Performance Director he did not get the opportunity look for players in the outskirts.
“There are talented players out there waiting to be spotted and groomed. After all where did Ah Hua come from? Backok in Kelantan. And where did the Sidek brother come from? Banting. Lee Chong Wei from Penang,” pointed out James.
“And we need to have the inter-state and inter-club championships revived. The ‘Purple League’ is a good thing which has kick started the search for new talent.”
James passion for badminton is certainly burning till today and he should be aptly accorded the Badminton Ambassador title for Malaysia.