Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The passing of a legend

Shortly after Subuh, I got a message that Datuk Punch Gunalan had passed on.

A badminton legend trained in mechanical engineering, Punch ended up doing a lot of other things -  marketing and public relations on top of sharing his technical expertise in a sport that went on to guarantee him legendary status. He rose to the deputy president's seat at the world federation BWF, but not before becoming the strategic thinker and implementer and one of the architects behind Malaysia's Thomas Cup victory in 1992. His communications skills, mechanical solutions to problems and marketing knowledge were tools of his trade. Officials of his ilk, sadly, are a dying breed. With profound sadness, we bid farewell to Punch.

When Avittele asked me to write the script for a program on Astro SuperSports, of course I could not say no to the opportunity of meeting old friends. This picture was taken at Punch's residence in Petaling Jaya in July 2010, which I treasure most because Punch shared with producer Aida Halim and I a lot of inside stories behind the Thomas Cup success. We exchanged banters, spoke about the good old times when everyone was open to criticism and recalled the moments when he agreed for P Ganga Rao to approach and offer me the job as a media officer at BWF. I was advised not a friend. I picked this spot to capture the most recent Punch with Punch in his heyday as the backdrop.

This interview was published in the Malay Mail on October 19, 2005 under the column Icons.

A MAN acknowledged in his time as one of the world's finest players in both singles and doubles, DATUK PUNCH GUNALAN is ideally placed to turn badminton into a global sport.

As Mailsport's RIZAL HASHIM discovers, Gunalan's background in mechanical engineering, marketing and the technical aspects of the game provides him the know-how to solve problems with mechanical precision, aplomb and foresight.

Mailsport: Tell us about your early days, Datuk.

Punch Gunalan: I held a badminton racquet for the first time when I was five. At that time, my father had exposed me to various age-group tournaments. Although I was also adept in track and field, my father seemed convinced that my destiny lay in badminton. I once held the King George V (KGV) school record in pole vault and high jump but due to my father's influence, badminton became my reason for being. But he did not live long enough to see the fruits of his labour.

MS: What happened?
PG: For most, Merdeka Day on Aug 31, 1957, was a day of celebration. But for my family, it was a day of mourning. On the eve of Merdeka, my father was involved in a misunderstanding at a police road-block and he was accidentally hit on the head. He suffered a concussion and a day later, we were told that he had passed away.

MS: Losing a father at such a young age must surely be a big blow for you.
PG: It was tough for everybody in the family. Realising that we had lost the family's sole breadwinner, I became more focused and more responsible. We survived mainly through the help of relatives and friends. KGV offered me a scholarship and later, I earned a scholarship to pursue my studies in the United Kingdom. From the sporting perspective, I had learnt enough under him never to compromise on the courts.

MS: Did you encourage your son to play the game?
PG: I did and he went on to represent his school. But my wife and I decided since we were blessed with only one child, it was best that he worked for a degree rather than a badminton medal. If by God's grace we were blessed with another child, I would have loved the chance of turning him or her into a world-beater. Still, we are happy with what we have. Roshan is intent on becoming an orthopaedic surgeon.

MS: What are the highlights of your playing career?
PG: Winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal in Christchurch in 1974 was a source of enormous satisfaction for me. It was akin to completing the Grand Slam because before that, I had bagged the SEAP Games gold in singles and doubles and the Asian Games singles and doubles titles as well. I had won the doubles title in Edinburgh alongside Ng Boon Bee in 1970 but had to wait four years later for the singles gold.

MS: As a coach?
PG: Winning the Thomas Cup in 1992 after a 25-year lapse. It was the culmination of hard work which began almost 10 years earlier.

MS: As an administrator?
PG: When I was chosen to receive the Commonwealth Games baton from Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 1998. It was a great honour for me and certainly, a feather in the cap.

MS: What does being the second-in-command in IBF entail, Datuk?
PG: Basically, I am in charge of charting the future of the game. My task is to make the game more attractive, fashionable and more appealing to the audience. We are in the midst of collating feedback with regard to a new scoring system in our bid to make the game more spectator-friendly as well as to increase television coverage. The current scoring system of 15 points best-of-three games drags too long and IBF are testing the new point-per-rally system, which uses a 21-point best-of-three format. Badminton needs to become player-, spectator-, television- and sponsors-friendly in order to become a more exciting and popular racquet sport. IBF, as you know, have shifted their HQ to Kuala Lumpur and from here, I am in charge of overseeing the five IBF training centres, of which three are already operational in Saarbruecken (Germany), Sofia (Bulgaria) and Guangzhou (China). Ideally, we want to expose the trainees at the centres to the European individualistic mentality, Korean discipline, Chinese training methods, Malaysian tactics and Indonesian footwork.

MS: You received a lot of flak for telling women's shuttlers to get skimpy.
PG: It is one way of telling the players to set the trend and become fashionable. We want major badminton finals to be a social event like the Wimbledon or the Super Bowl. Badminton has the potential to become a global sport. An European gentleman told me recently that badminton is faster than a Ferrari. And it is true. The company we commissioned to measure the speed of the game discovered Taufik Hidayat's smashes clocked up to 320kph at the recent World Championship in Anaheim. And the shuttlers do it many times in a game. Tennis star Andy Roddick's serve at 249kph therefore pales in comparison. Badminton is the fastest racquet sport, there's no doubt about that.

MS: Do you think Malaysians will be up to the challenge in the immediate and foreseeable future?
PG: Certainly. But in order to enjoy success, we have to break away from the culture of compromise. Nicol David, who just won the British Open, is a prime example. For us to set a certain standard, we must not compromise.

Current Position: Deputy president, International Badminton Federation (IBF), President, Kuala Lumpur Badminton Association (KLBA).
Place of Birth: Seremban, Negri Sembilan.
Date of Birth: April 2, 1944.
Family: Eldest of four siblings.
Marital Status: Wife Datin Vijeya Kumari and son Dr Roshan.
Educational Background:
King George V School 1957-1963; Brighton College of Technology 1964-67, graduated with honours in Mechanical engineering.
Career Profile: 1961-1963 - Negri Sembilan Senior Champion in Junior Singles and Doubles and Mixed Doubles. KGV school captain. 1962 - Junior Doubles champion in Asian Championships, Kuala Lumpur. 1968 - Won the East India Open Singles Championships. 1968-1973 - Mechanical Engineer with National Electricity Board. 1969 - Won the Malaysian Open, Irish Open and SEAP Games Singles, National Sportsman of the Year. 1970 - Won the Asian Games singles and doubles titles, Commonwealth Games doubles gold, Thomas Cup runner-up (lost to Indonesia 7-2). 1971 - Won the Malaysian Open, Belgian Open and Hong Kong Open, the SEAP Games, United States Open, Belgium Open, and All-England doubles. 1972 - Won the Belgian Open, Danish Open and German Open, doubles silver medallist in demonstration sport at Munich Olympics. 1972-1975 - Sales Executive, Dunlop Malaysian Industries Berhad. 1973 - Won the SEAP Games singles title. 1974 - Won the Singles in the Commonwealth Games, runner-up in the All-England singles, National Sportsman of the Year. 1975-1977 - Sales Manager (Sports), DMIB Berhad. 1976 - Thomas Cup Malaysian coach (runner-up). 1977-1979 - Manager, Head of Sports Division of DMIB Berhad. 1979 - Manager, Sports Equipment and Marketing, Sime Darby Berhad. 1980's - Public Relations Manager, Emtex Corp Berhad. 1988 - Thomas Cup Malaysian coach (runner-up). 1990 - Thomas Cup Malaysian coach (runner-up). 1991 - Secretary, Asian Badminton Confederation (ABC). 1992 - Thomas Cup Team Manager-cum-Chief Coach (Champion). 1996 - Vice President, IBF. 1997 - Chairman, BAM Development Committee. 1998 - Selected to receive the Commonwealth Games baton from Queen Elizabeth on March 9. 1999 - Vice-President, IBF, Chairman of Marketing Committee and exco member of IBF, re-elected as secretary of ABC. 2000 - Vice-President of IBF, Chairman of Marketing Committee and exco member of IBF. 2001 - Re-elected as vice-president of IBF, IBF Executive Board member and Chairman of Marketing Committee for another three-year term (2001-2004). 2003 - Re-elected as secretary of ABC for another two-year term (2003-2005). 2004 - Re-elected as Vice-President of IBF, and appointed by IBF Council as Deputy Chairman of Council. 2005 - Deputy president of IBF and appointed by IBF Council as Chairman of Marketing Committee, Continental Confederation Committee and Training Centres and Development Committee.


ASWAD said...

Perginya seorang lagenda. Insan yang banyak memberi erti dalam dunia bulutangkis antarabangsa khususnya negara kita Malaysia. Seorang pemikir, perencana dan juga jurulatih yang amat arif dalam selok belok permainan badminton dimana semuanya telah dibuktikan pada Thomas cup 1992.
Seingat saya, pernah sekali bersua muka bersama beliau. Ketika itu saya sedang menikmati makan malam di Sg. Buloh.Tanpa saya sedari bahu saya ditepuk kerana beliau ingin meminta izin untuk lalu di belakang saya. Ketika menoleh, mulut saya secara tidak sengaja menyebut PUNCH!....Dia tersenyum lalu kami pun bersalaman...tanpa membuang masa saya terus mempelawa beliau bergambar...kami sempat berbual tentang perkembangan badminton Malaysia...Keluhannya dan juga kecewa beliau pada senario sekarang tidak dapat dibendung ketika itu.
Kepada PUNCH..terima kasih kerana mengharumkan nama Malaysia dalam dunia Bulutangkis dan membawa Thomas cup ke negara kita yang tidak tahu bilakah lagi kita akan menggapainya..

Hakim Amir said...

what a legend... RIP Datuk Punch. Agreed with you bro, another rare breed of tokoh sukan is now gone ... mana nak cari ganti..

On another note, I missed watching that episode produced by Avittele. Must persuade my good friend since ITM days, Aida Halim for a dvd copy :)

Anonymous said...

RIP Dato' Punch..


Kuhan Foo said...

Great insight into the thoughts of the man. Thanks for bringing back this interview. We're loosing the true warriors who championed and fought for the betterment of sports in Malaysia. Where do we go from here?

Andrew Gopal said...

Rest in peace Datuk. You will always be remembered.

Anonymous said...

yang bagus dah kembali - tinggal puak2 yang tak bagus - sebab tu badminton kita ketinggalan......

potgas said...

Datuk punch dalam kenangan....

potgas said...

Datuk punch dalam kenangan....

Jay's Movie Reviews said...

My father said that Punch was a very good player. It's a huge loss to the Malaysian sports world.

DAN said...

Ah the late Batuk Gunalan offered you the BWF media officer post.
I thought he offered it to me first.
Never mind who is first, I honoured him in my commmentary piece in TODAY newspaper Singapore.