Saturday, November 29, 2014

The rare and thoroughbred


Thethe rare and thoroughbred

By Tony Mariadass

Walter Vijay’s occupation makes him a unique and rare personality which is a dying breed in the Malaysian horse racing industry.
Walter who turns 67 on January, is a race commentator, who has been calling races for the last 29 years since 1985 and among the only two Malaysians in the business. The other is Allan Nordin who is based in Penang.
Veteran commentator, Christopher Lee, retired in January 2012 and Walter was appointed chief commentator for the Selangor Turf Club. He commentates with Nick Child, an Englishman, who will be leaving soon too.
Another foreign commentator in the racing scene is Australian Mark Lydemore who calls in Ipoh.
Career path
Walter choosing his career had a lot to do with his passion for horses since young, but he could have taken a different path had his father not prevented him from pursuing his studies overseas despite securing places in the universities.
“I was all geared up to head overseas to pursue my studies either in journalism or business management when my father, who worked in the Malayan Railways, said that he could not afford it, as I had two brothers and two sisters after me,” recalled Walter.
“My mother had retired as a teacher and my father was the sole breadwinner. My father told me to get a job.”
Vijay revealed that he was also a dramatist and musician.
“I also had a passion for drama and acted in two plays – the King and I and Showboat. After that I moved into music and was a vocalist in the local band called Venus. We had stints at hotels and performed at functions.”
But before that Vijay started looking for a job and met his classmate D.J. Dave from Tanjung Malim where he had done his Form Five, who was also looking for a job and told him that there were several job vacancies in the government sectorc and interviews were being conducted at the Labour office in Kuala Lumpur.
“We both went for the interview and those present for the interview were divided into three groups for jobs in three government departments – customs, immigration and postal.
“Both Dave and I were put in the postal group and we both got the job. I continued with my singing at night.”
Vijay said that his from his first pay of RM180, he gave his mother RM170 and kept RM10.
It was in 1984 that Walter answered an advertisement for a race commentator.
He went for the interview in Singapore and was shortlisted to be among the final two.
“I had to earlier present a mock commentary which the interviewers were impressed. Then I was granted with a few others who were shortlisted to call in an amateur race.
“And let me tell you it I two different worlds doing a mock commentary and live. Many of the candidates were tongue-tied. I managed to call the race and was granted a six month probation as a trainee commentator.”
 During this time Walter received guidance from legendary Sydney race callers Ian Craig and John Tapp.
From amateur to pro
The rest was history.
Walter called his first race in Penang in 1985 under the assistance of Jimmy Chadwick and the race was won by Uni Tex.
Jimmy Chadwick's initial advice to Walter was “The only way you will make it as a commentator is if you are thrown into the fire”.

After his probation Walter was appointed trainee commentator for three years from 1985 to 1988.
In 1988 Walter was made full time commentator for the Malaysian circuit which saw him calling races at Ipoh, Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Walter called in Singapore until racing was run simultaneously with Malaysia and even called the last meeting at the old Singapore track at Bukit Timah before Kranji opened where he was also called upon for relief work at the new track.
In 2002 Walter attended the Asian Racing Federation Study Program in Japan where he covered racing in Tokyo and Hokkaido and got a first-hand view of the breeding industry in Japan. During his time in Japan Walter was fortunate enough to see the great stallion Sunday Silence before he passed away.
Walter has even called races in New Zealand where he called barrier trials and witnessed Bone Crusher win the Air New Zealand Stakes in the late 1980’s.
Walter attended the Melbourne Cup carnival in 1998 to see Jezabeel win for Chris Munce and met Greg Miles the race caller at Flemington.
In 2000 Walter was a guest of the Del Mar Turf Club in San Diego California where he attended the opening day with an estimated crowd of 30,000 and met Trevor Denman the track announcer at Del Mar.
Last year he was at the Royal Ascot as an invited guest and met legendary race caller Jim McGrah.
Sweet journey
“It has been a long road, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I must say that what sacrifice I made for brothers and sisters when I forgo to continue my studies overseas, I have been blessed with I do today. I love my job,” said the father of two daughters and who is married to journalist Melanie Proctor.
“Every race is a different race. To call every race is a challenge No two race will have the same outcome.
“It is all about concentration, more importantly memorising colours of the ‘jockey silks’ (colours of the owners worn by the jockeys) and observing.”
Vijay said that one has to call a race within 72 seconds and maximum of two minutes and there is no room for error.
“A new newcomer will probably take a day to prepare for a race call.
“After years of experience, I will take about twenty minutes to prepare for the race.
“There are three parts to race which is the pre-race, the race itself and the post-race.
“With two of us in callers box, we take turns to call the race. The pre-race which includes predictions for the race involves both us before one of take over the post-race when the horses parade at the paddock before they go to the gates for the race before starters up is called.
“Each race day, among us we do anything between eight to ten races.”
It is full week’s job which includes going for track work in the early hours of the morning the days leading to the race, having to be in office after that to compile all the reports and prepare for race days.
Ups and downs
Talking to Vijay personally and listening to him commentate certainly makes his voice and tone totally different. If one had not seen Vijay personally and only heard his voice, one would not be faltered for making him out to be of a European decent.
On predictions on races, Vijay recalled where he called five wins on a race day.
His biggest blunder: “When I called the winner from the next day’s race. I immediately apoligised and made the correction. It happens, but rarely. We are human after all. But the irony was the winner I had called mistakenly on the first day, emerged winner the next day!”
Surprisingly, Walter’s most memorable day in his career had nothing to do with the horses or jockeys, but his live interview with Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson during his visit in the early 2001 when he came to the Selangor Turf Club to watch a horse named MU. He was invited Tunku Shahabuddin Tunku Besar Burhanuddin.
“I was shell-shocked when called up to interview Sir Alex and did a 20 minute interview about horses and football. He was such a gentleman and made me feel so comfortable. I will never forget this day although I am Arsenal fan.
“I have met top jockey, trainers, went for top races around the world and horses is my world. I am indeed blessed.
‘Who’s gunna get it’
“But people like me are a dying breed and I intend to train a few to take up the job before I call it quits.
Walter is best known for his phrase “who’s gunna get it” which he uses often to describe a close finish.
Probably this phase is going to be used to who is going to take his hot seat when the time comes.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What a crying shame

UKRC march on


Level Field  

(H)  What a crying shame
A football field that rightfully belongs to the Ulu Klang Recreation Club (UKRC) and the community has been taken over by the authorities and left to deteriorate for the last four months.
UKRC are lucky they still have their clubhouse, which they have managed since 1958, though they were served a seven-day notice dated March 4, 2014, by Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ) to vacate it and remove all its fixtures. This came after the KL High Court ruled in favour of the council on the field on March 3.

The club have not lost hope yet as their judicial review application against the notice in the High Court on March 11 – to stop the council from taking over the clubhouse until a proper hearing is conducted – was allowed. MPAJ was issued a restraining order and the hearing has been set for Feb 12 next year.

The community club’s woes began way back in 2002 when plans were revealed to build a condominium on its land (see flashback of The Malay Mail story).
There were then countless attempts to grab the land – which UKRC had acquired on Aug 3, 1957 – from them but the club fought tooth and nail to hold on to it.
While waiting for the hearing, UKRC have decided that their activities will carry on.

After having put their annual UKRC 9s football tournament, which was inaugurated in 2001, on hold for two years, they are holding it this weekend – not on their grounds but in the neighbouring Drainage and Irrigation Department’s field.

A total of eight teams, including four from Indonesia, are competing in the two-day tournament.

It is sad that UKRC cannot use their own field because MPAJ closed it off in July, supposedly for repair work, and has not allowed any bookings.

However, there are no signs of any repair work and the field is in a deplorable state with uncut grass and dry patches appearing all over it – a far cry from the immaculate pitch under UKRC’s management.

Some MPAJ workers are seen in the field every day with garden lawn movers and hand-held grass cutters – probably that is why they have not managed to mow the whole field!

Either the council doesn’t have a clue how to manage the field or it is making sure the pitch is not in playing condition for reasons best known to it.

In the meantime, a good tournament that is backed by Astro and several other sponsors has been prevented from being held where it is supposed to – in front of the UKRC clubhouse.

If a corporate giant like Astro is prepared to sponsor a small club, surely UKRC is doing something right.

The club will be able to hold their regular fellowship night for the tournament at the clubhouse and the visiting and participating teams can see for themselves how a good field is rotting away.

The loss of the field also saw the 12-year-old UKRC football programme come to a halt last November. The programme catered for the community's children, from ages 7 to 16, and had about 130 participants every weekend.

It is indeed sad that when fields are vanishing in the city, another has been left to rot and denied to the public.
But above all, when sports development is difficult to come by these days, a good programme has been grounded and enthusiastic young footballers have lost the opportunity to hone their skills.

It is indeed baffling why the authorities fail to see a good thing for what it is and are going all out to destroy it.

Is there an ulterior motive for their action? Is development going to take over another green lung?

This is a club that has been in existence since independence, well managed with good programmes, a community centre and above all, a place where people, both young and old, could go for recreation.

It all started with a group of community members of Ulu Klang managing a piece of land and a mining pool. Over time, they turned it into a leafy retreat for families in the community.

Over the years, through funds obtained from the organisation of an annual football tournament and sponsorship, the club built a community hall that is fully air conditioned, is well fitted out, has a garden area for functions and boasts a basketball court and many other amenities, all through their own initiative. With each passing year, the members added to the facilities for the enjoyment of their members and community.

They maintained the field themselves, investing in a RM15,000 heavy machine grass-cutter and taking turns to mow.

Now, their dream field has been snatched away from them, but they are not throwing in the towel – not until they get back what rightfully belongs to the community.

 TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than three
decades of experience and is ­­­­­

passionate about local sports. He
can be reached at tmariadass@ Twitter handle: @

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Yes, Minister


Level Field

 Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin is spot-on in launching the Talent Identification and Development (MyTID) System – a move to stop the declining standard of Malaysian sports.
Khairy was also responsible for the National Football Development Programme (NFDP) launched by the Prime Minister himself earlier this year.
One cannot go wrong by emphasising sports development because if implemented correctly and monitored well with the right people in charge, it guarantees not only results in the future but also the availability of a big pool of talent to choose from.
The only problem with development is that there are no immediate results. It requires tons of hard work, patience and time to bear fruit. It is also a thankless job.
Khairy has also done well by not only recognising the differences between the stakeholders of the programme, namely the National Sports Council (NSC), National Sports  Institute (NSI) and the Ministry of Education  (MoE), but asked them to work together to ensure the success of MyTID.
He sees, rightly, clubs as the backbone of sports development and has said that part of the 2015 budget for the latter will go towards spurring the involvement of clubs and strengthening their roles in the whole process.
MyTID is the biggest-ever grassroots development programme so far, launched with a RM34 million budget and an ambitious target to see some 100,000 pupils from 1,500 schools screened by the end of next year. This will be broadened to 500,000 pupils from 7,000 schools by 2019.
MyTID is probably the best thing to happen to Malaysian sports when it is declining at such an alarming rate, no thanks to the apathy of many national sports associations.
The plans all look good on paper, but the million-ringgit question is that whether they will survive the test of time and will they be properly managed?
There have been previous talent identification programmes and as confirmed by Khairy, there was a RM3 million allocation for them. He revealed that less than 1% of those identified by the previous programmes were absorbed into the back-up training programme.
So, what will be different this time around?
Yes, the good minister has said no more excuses this time around, especially as his reputation is at stake. But in Malaysian sports, we have short memory. We launch programmes in a big way, make strong recommendations whenever there is a debacle, come up with all sorts of suggestions and everyone has something to say. But when it comes to execution, we fail miserably.
Every time a new issue arises, old matters that were raised take a backseat and more often than not, are forgotten.
To recap, just last month there was a hue and cry about the Incheon Asian Games debacle and all sorts of recommendations came up. Prior to that, it was the Glasgow Commonwealth Games fiasco, which was the highlight of the month. Then along came the Lee Chong Wei saga and everything is now quiet on all the other fronts.
Next, all attention will probably shift to the Sea Games in Singapore in seven months and since it is just across the Causeway, everyone will want a piece of the action in the name of development, exposure, minimum cost factor and wanting to study how Singapore organises the Games as we are the next host.
The plan to be more careful in selecting the athletes, raise the qualifications for the Games, exercise prudence and all other matters discussed after the earlier two debacles will probably go out the window.
Will the same thing happen to MyTID after its novelty wears off?
Already, there are some grumblings about the NFDP, which is under the stewardship of former international Lim Teong Kim. The coaches are unhappy and there are questions about the selection process and whether the right people are handling the job, especially at grassroots level.
My biggest concern is, what will happen to MyTID and NFDP if Khairy is moved to a different ministry in a Cabinet reshuffle?
We have had so many programmes die prematurely once the minister who initiated them left office. Remember Talent Identification, Sports for All, Sports Culture and Sports Industry?
The next minister usually does not carry on his predecessor’s programmes because he wants to leave his own legacy behind.
Khairy has said the NFDP is a national agenda but he must make sure that it is gazetted and does not disappear after he leaves the ministry.
The civil servants in the ministry, NSC and NSI themselves are equally guilty as every time a new minister comes on board, they abandon the old programmes.
One wonders what happens to all the pre-approved budget – is it channelled into different and new programmes or is it written off?
A lot of money has been allocated for sports development this time around and let us hope that it is used wisely for the programmes initiated by Khairy.
Otherwise, it will be more public money down the drain and sports in the country remaining in the doldrums.

TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than three
decades of experience and is ­­­­­
passionate about local sports. He
can be reached at tmariadass@ Twitter handle: @

Friday, November 14, 2014

Everyone at fault


Level Field

(H) Everyone at fault
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is guilty in the current doping episode involving Datuk Lee Chong Wei?
The chances are whoever stands in front of the mirror and asks the question will get the same reply: you are all guilty.
Yes, this includes the player himself, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), the National Sports Institute (NSI), the coaches, sponsors, the media and the fans themselves.
We have to get to the bottom of who administered the dexamethasone (a drug used to aid an athlete’s rehabilitation and which is permitted outside competition because it is not performance-enhancing) and when.
It is pointless looking for a scapegoat because everyone involved in Chong Wei’s preparations and recovery for competition should be held responsible.
Personally, I think the matter has been blown out of proportions and is just complicating matters.
Let’s be honest with ourselves.
Officials, coaches and associations always want their injured athletes back in competition as soon as possible. The athletes are seldom given enough time to recover through the normal process with treatment and physiotherapy.
Chong Wei, for one, has on countless occasions been required to be on the court for crucial competitions because he is our only hope for success and our back-up players are not good enough.
Now, whose fault is it that we don’t have a crop of top players but just one who is pressured to play without looking at the consequences?
Chong Wei too is to be blamed for agreeing to compete in almost every competition. Whether he had the option to skip some of the tournaments or was compelled to compete by BAM or the sponsors or he wanted the money is a question left to be answered.
The World Badminton Federation requires top ten ranked players to compete in tournaments and skipping tournaments will see them fined. But if a player is genuinely injured, he surely must be given the option to skip.
Probably, Chong Wei was under pressure to compete in the BWF World Championship in Copenhagen in August (he lost to China's Chen Long in the final), where the fiasco began after his urine sample tested positive.
He claims that he has undergone 124 doping tests over the last 15 years of playing badminton, all of which tested negative. So, he should have known better than to allow dexamethasone to be injected into him so close to or during a championship.
Maybe it was a rare case of the drug lingering in his body longer than the expected 36 to 54 hours.
Now, to call Chong Wei a cheat is indeed unfair because, for starters, dexamethasone is not a performance-enhancing drug. It is a form of medication that is widely used to aid in recovery from surgery and the fact that it is allowed to be administered by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) out of competition for rehabilitation certainly has to be taken into account.
WADA has listed out clearly all the procedures that need to be taken to handle such cases.
But almost everyone is talking about Chong Wei facing a two-year ban if found guilty.
The world-governing body imposed a provisional suspension on the player last week after his B sample also tested positive due to an adverse analytical finding.
The BWF has referred the matter to its doping hearing panel and in due course, the chair of the panel will set the time, date and location for a hearing.
The panel will determine whether or not the athlete violated an anti-doping regulation.
So, let us just wait for the hearing. With his unblemished image and the fact that the drug was an anti-inflammatory substance, Chong Wei could just be given a reduced sentence or even let off the hook with a severe warning.
Whatever happens, let’s give Chong Wei a chance to prove his innocence, or ignorance in this particular case, and see what the BWF hearing panel decides.
Chong Wei, in the meantime, should take this whole ugly episode in his stride as much as it is troubling and stressful. He should come out of this a stronger person and prove all his critics wrong.
If a reduced suspension is meted out, he should use the time to recharge himself and come back even stronger and try to complete some of his unfinished business, including winning the Olympic gold medal.
It will not be an impossible task for the player, who is known for his discipline, dedication and determination.
But if ever Chong Wei decides to call it quits, he would indeed be a disappointed man as he will bow out a tainted player after all the achievements he has under his belt.
But whatever decision he makes must be respected for he has given so much to this nation all these years.
Meantime, this episode should serve as a timely warning to not only badminton but all others sports – the national associations cannot depend on just one or two players and ‘abuse’ them. They have to seriously undertake development programmes for a constant flow of athletes to carry our flag.
Just look at China. In any sports, they have a pool of players who can become world champions any time.
So, let us all take the blame for what has happened to Chong Wei and not allow something like this to happen again.
TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than three
decades of experience and is ­­­­­
passionate about local sports. He
can be reached at tmariadass@ Twitter handle: @

Friday, November 7, 2014

Grass up in smoke


Level Field

 Grass up in smoke
How many studies need to be done on the laying of turf at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil to end the never-ending woes of poor surface since the stadium as opened in 1998?
The stadium was closed for six months for the laying of Bermuda Princess 77 turf at a cost of RM1.5 million and was used for the Malaysia Cup final last Saturday.
Sadly, the pitch was literally ripped apart during the match probably because the grass had not taken root yet. Besides, it had rained the whole day before the game. The ground was soggy and the hard-fought battle between Pahang and Johor Darul Takzim ensured its destruction.
Sometimes one wonders if the authorities take into consideration the findings of the studies done on turf suited for Malaysian weather. Or maybe they just want to see a beautiful pitch, which, when played on, turns into a nightmare.
From what I know, most types of Bermuda turf are usually used for golf courses.
Previously, the turf used at the National Stadium was seashore paspalum, replacing the original Bermuda grass on the basis that it was more durable, required low maintenance and had a soft, cushiony feel and dense canopy.

This choice was made despite two football pitches in the city with paspalum surface that were not exactly perfect.
Seashore paspalum is an environmental grass that grows on sandy beaches, the banks of estuaries frequently inundated by salt water and along the banks of coastal rivers.

Coming back to Bermuda Princess 77, another study is expected to be done. The big question is, who is going to pay for the blunder and wastage of millions of ringgit? Heads must roll, besides that of Malaysia Stadium Corporation (MSC) chief executive officer Ahmad Helmi Harun.
Finding a perfect pitch for the National Stadium is no rocket science. Just look at the durable cow grass that has been used in the Merdeka Stadium all these years and other stadiums like the Darulmakmur in Kuantan and Selayang Municipality Stadium who have opted for cowgrass.
Or the authorities could take a short drive to the Royal Selangor Club in Mont Kiara and ask them about their immaculate pitch. Or consult the Johor FA on the Larkin Stadium, which had new turf laid last year and is now rated the best in the country and comparable to any top-class pitch in Europe.
I remember way back in December 1981 when I wrote an article with colleague Rajan Etickan on repair works at the Merdeka Stadium. The problem at the time was not the grass but poor drainage.
The stadium board spent only RM780,000 on soil amendment (RM46,250), rectification of underground drain (RM93,210), installation of automatic water sprinkler ((RM130,000), re-turfing (RM87,600), contract preliminaries (RM30,000), contingency fees (RM150,000) and professional fees (RM100,000).
The grass used then was zoysia metrella.
In fact, besides cow grass, zoysia metrella was recommended for the National Stadium. According to Ahmad Helmi, who has admitted to having erred on the selection of Bermuda Princess 77, the latter grass is one of the options they are looking at.
Granted, the repairs at the Merdeka Stadium were done 33 years ago and of course the cost has increased. But the point is, it was a good job and the turf has survived the test of time.
If only MSC had looked at the series of detailed and well-researched articles written by former Malay Mail sportswriter Rizal Hashim from May 2005 to May 2006, they would not have gone wrong.
So, what did go wrong?
Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has said there was no abuse of funds in the upgrading and re-turfing of the National Stadium. If that is the case, then who approved the turf and based on whose recommendations?
This is not the first time the resurfacing of the National Stadium has gone awry.
Everyone involved in the mess needs to be held accountable because huge sums of money have gone up in smoke.
Reasons like the turf at Bukit Jalil only receives one to two hours of sunlight daily and they had to use ‘grow lights and blowers’ does not hold water. There are top class pitches around the world who hardly have sunlight or adverse weather conditions.
But Khairy had also said that the current grass may be moved into an indoor if the turf is replaced so that it is not wasted.
Now wondering how the turf is going to survive without sunlight? So it is just money wasted because of a wrong decision?
Another point, MSC have to seriously consider is that having a perfect pitch means having a professional team of groundsmen.
We have more often than not been guilty of having first class facilities, but third-class management or maintenance.
Funds are also not budgeted and allocation for maintenance.
Another area the Stadium management have to make a bold decision is whether concerts and other non-sports relate events be allowed to be held at the National Stadium.
Maybe, it is about time to have the National Stadium specially dedicated only for sports and have concerts and other events in indoor stadiums.
In the past we have seen the National Stadium used for concerts special coverings are used for the grass, but the pitch was still affected.
This was because the coverings were not removed quickly enough by the time they were removed, the grass had turned yellow and will have little time to recover. These areas then turned into bald patches. The blame was put on the organisers of such events as they were the ones responsible for removing the covering.
But the time has come for Malaysia Stadium Corporation to get their act right once and for all after so many foul-ups. Otherwise, maybe the time has come to seriously considering giving the management of the turf to a foreign expert company with a good record.
Hopefully, there will not be another foul-up in appointing the company.

TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than three
decades of experience and is ­­­­­
passionate about local sports. He
can be reached at tmariadass@ Twitter handle: @