By Tony Mariadass
Veteran journalist Tony Francis commands respect and admiration from all sections of the media and the sporting fraternity, about whom he wrote with rare felicity.
Last night his reputation was embellished when he was was inducted into the Olympic Council of Malaysia(OCM) Hall of Fame in recognition of his long and illustrious contribution to sports journalism.
The award was presented by deputy sports minister Datuk M. Saravanan at the 23rd OCM Annual dinner and awards night at the Tan Sri Hamzah Arena at the OCM Sports Complex in Kuala Lumpur.
The former Malay Mail editor-in-chief, also popular for his ready wit and humour, joined his inspiration, the late Norman Siebel who was Straits Times sports editor when Francis was a rookie reporter, in the elite class of distinguished sportswriters.
L to R:
Soong Poh Wah, Kwan Yoke Ming, Cheah Soon Kit, Dato’ Yeoh Cheng Hoe, Dato’ Razif Sidek, Rashid Sidek, YB Datuk. M. Saravanan, YAM Tunku Tan Sri Imran Ibni Almarhum Tuan Ku Ja’afar, Alvin Chong (youngest son of Edwin Chong), Mardiana Sani (daughter of Datuk A. Sani Karim), Datuk Wira Mazlan ahmad, Dato’ Yeoh Choo Hock, Dato’ Roy Rajasingham, Mr. Tony Francis and Dato’ Low Beng Choo
So prolific, many journalists covering various beats who have benefited from his expertise with some going on to helm newsrooms.
Speaking to Malay Mail after his induction, Francis 68, said: " I am humbled to have worked with some of the most dedicated and committed sportswriters in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.
“They changed the complexion of sports reporting, from the run-of-the mill straight forward news stories to commentaries. They campaigned for what was right and necessary.
"They delivered, among others, semi pro football, the first people’s velodrome in the country, a World Cup live telecast sponsored by the rakyat and to a certain extent, also sparked a constitutional crisis in the ’90s. I am proud to be one of them.”
Francis began his career as a 20-year-old general news reporter in 1967 with Straits Times, getting his break in sports three months after joining duty.
Working under the late legendary sports writer Normal Sibel, Tony had the company of the late Mansoor Rahman and Ian Pereira as colleagues, both of whom were among the first sportswriters to be inducted to the Hall of Fame last year.
Tony Francis comes from a family of journalists -Tony’s elder brothers Jeffery (migrated to Australia) and Jerry (former NST Ipoh bureau chief), were both working with New Straits Times.
He said besides his brothers who influenced him in his career, it was Siebel who inspired him.
“I used to read his columns as a schoolboy and was mesmerised by the way he wrote.
“Imagine my joy when I was asked to join the sports desk and Norman was the sports editor and today I going to share the same Hall of Fame with whom I had admired and hero worshiped. I had not even achieved ankle deep of what he had achieved.
“I am indebted to OCM in recognising me to be inducted into the Hall of Fame not only along with my peers in the sports writing fraternity but among some of the illustrious sporting personalities.”
Francis rose from a cadet reporter to become Assistant Sports Editor, Sports editor, Chief News Editor and Associate Editor before he retired from New Straits Times in 2002.
Upon retiring from NST, he was the Editor of Golf Digest with Blu Inc before joining Malay Mail under its new management as the editor-in-chief following its sale by New Straits Times Press. He now works as a consultant with motoring magazine Top Gear.
He said the impact of sports on his life was immense. “Sports took me on a high like a drug. You get involved emotionally when the country wins or loses. You get so much joy in telling a happy story to your readers or sad when you have to tell them what happened in defeat."
Francis not only made a name for himself as sports journalist and as an editorial man, but has been a mentor for many young reporters including the scribe.