By Tony Mariadass
DECORATED athlete Datuk M. Rajamani has more bitter memories of her short but impressive athletics career and that has seen her continuously fight for the welfare of athletes.
The former teacher, Olympian and twice voted as the National Sportswoman of the Year, experienced further disappointment when her son who was an athlete and grandson who was a badminton player, were overlooked despite their talent and prowess.
“Do not get me wrong. Yes, I am disillusioned with what I had to endure during my athletics career, but personally I am delighted what I had achieved despite all the setbacks and the way I was treated,” said Rajamani in revealing several incidents during their athletics tenure from 1962 to 1968.
Rajamani said coming from a poor Ceylonese family who lost her mother when she was five years-old, she had to thank her late father - (V.Mailvaganam) – a JKR storekeeper, who was responsible for athletics career.
“My first spikes given by my father was with long nails and when it wore off we took it to the cobbler to have new nails inserted,” recalled Rajamani.
“It was my coach R. Suppiah who bought me my first tracksuit when I went for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
“The 1968 incident when I preparing for my second Olympics (in Mexico City) when I was struck by lightning with two others – P. N. Govindan and Cheryl Dorral (former New Straits Times Sports Editor) at the Police Depot field shattered me.”
Govindan had died on the spot.
Rajamani was unconscious for 18 hours and had lost her memory.
But it was what she found out when she was discharged that further inflicted pain in her.
She had laid on a trolley in the third class ward for almost three days because no beds were available and was moved to first class when news came that the then prime minister, late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj was visiting her. Tunku did not come because of other commitments but she received a bouquet of flowers.
Her husband, M. Rajalingam (then not married), had to get a guarantee letter from his employers for stay in first class.
The bigger shock was she had to pay for the bill when she was discharged when she had to pay for the bill and despite sending the claim to the Malaysian Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU), she was never reimbursed.
“I also did not receive a single sen from the two Sportswoman awarded to me where RM5,000 was paid. The money then was paid through the national association to maintain the amateur status of the athletes,” said Rajamani who won the 1966 award together with Tan Sri M. Jegathesan which was the inaugural national sports award.
“It was only after the 12th awards that the money was paid to the athletes themselves.
“I had a written a letter to MAAU in 1991 enquiring about the money. Not that I wanted it, but just to find out how it was spend and it was for development, I would have been the happiest. But not only did I not get a reply, but was blacklisted by MAAU.”
Rajamani had more bitter experiences when she had opted out from her teaching profession in 1992 and joined the National Sports Council (NSC) as their physical trainer and involved with the victorious 1992 and runner-up 1994 Malaysian Thomas Cup squad.
“I was so ill-treated all because some personnel who hoping for a post in the department. I was not interested in any post but just wanted do my work, but I could believe the way they ill-treated me.
“And when I thought I had seen the worst, it all came back when my son Vishnu was actively involved in athletics was subject to some unfair treatment in selection, while my grandson who was junior badminton player was subject to the same.
“It is sad what happens to athletes and the pain they suffer sometimes get intolerable.”
Rajamani, a member of the National Athlete Welfare Foundation (Yakeb) since it was formed in 2008, works hard to fight for respect and the welfare of athletes.
Yakeb was formed to safeguard the interest and to look into the welfare of current and former athletes who have competed at the SEA Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Olympic Games and several selected top-notch Asian meets.
Rajamani commended Yakeb’s constant effort to look into the welfare of athletes.
There are close to 2,000 athletes registered with Yakeb, including more than 300 current athletes.
Rajamani has even spoken to the prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to look into increasing the subsidy given to Yakeb, so that the past athletes, many of whom are not doing well, will be able to benefit.