Monday, February 20, 2012

Sports Coverage that Shaped My Career – 2

After 6 years in the north I came back to Kuala Lumpur in 1972 doing different job due to expansion of broadcasting but I was still involved in sports commentating. I had to handle most of the coverage in KL as fellow commentators like Aziz Ibrahim, Zulkarnain Hassan and  Baharin Tahir were still in the regions.

Maiden Overseas Coverage - In 1973 I was picked to cover the 2nd World Hockey Tournament in Amstelveen, Holland where the national team participated. It was my first overseas assignment in sports. I had to handle everything single handed. In the spirit of integration with the formation of Malaysia I had Haji Ahyar from Sabah as fellow commentator. We were a strange pair as Ahyar have never covered sports event and hockey was a strange sport to him. He admitted his weakness. Ahyar was a hard working man and willing to learn. He was a good assistant. Our first obstacle was the non existence of any publicity about the tournament as soon as we arrived in Amsterdam. At the end we found our way to Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam, and straight away went into business. At the Final I was asked to double up as commentator for TV. Ahyar did not participate in commentating as he was not up to it. I made him write the daily report and read them. Our good rapport with Mr Elli, the Dutch liaison officer assigned to us carried the day for us as the Dutch Broadcasting entity NOS technical crew was willing assist us in laying the cable from our normal Radio commentary position to the TV booth at the other side of the stadium in front of the swelling crowd. The host nation Holland beat the kingpin of hockey India 4-2 on penalty strokes after a 2-2 draw at half time.  That was good exercise in public relation.

Hockey Mania: The 3rd edition of the Hockey World Cup came to Kuala Lumpur in March 1975. It was the last edition to be played on natural grass when the international body decided to have the games on artificial surface astroturf. Kuala Lumpur had several good pitches but the rainy season when the tournament was held took its toll. Matches were shifted at last minute. We had to do a lot of running in covering and providing facilities for the foreign broadcasters. Malaysia had a good run beating Holland in the quarter final at the Kilat Club ground in Pantai. I did the radio coverage on top of the Club’s toilet as that was the nearest point to a secure telephone line. The Deputy President of Malaysia Hockey Federation at that time Judge Raja Azlan Shah (now Tuanku Sultan Perak) wanted a vantage point to watch the match and he sat beside me assisting in the commentary. At the end of the match Sultan Azlan mentioned to me that the match won by Malaysia was dedicated to the Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, who was MHF President. Tun was listening to my commentary with his cabinet ministers as they were in the midst of the cabinet meeting when the match was on. It was a happy occasion. Malaysia didn’t make it to the Final losing to India the eventual winner at Stadium Merdeka in the semi-final. It was a heart-breaking commentary as I found it difficult to blame my good friend the defender who made a slip that allowed India to the Final. Malaysia lost the 3rd spot to Germany 0-4, the highest ranking the national team achieved thus far in the tournament. In the Final India beat Pakistan 2-1. The Final was played at the newly renovated Merdeka Stadium.

The Dawn of a New Era - My first Asian Games experience was in Teheran, Iran 1974 (1-16 September). That was during the time when the country was rule by the absolute monarchy The Shah. The Games was to showcase the country. The facilities were spanking new with ultra modern stadiums. The TV facility and personals manning the equipmets for the coverage was imported from France in Seacam format which has to be converted to PAL for transmission in Malaysia. This is the first time I was learning the variation of TV signals. The situation was quite grim with the presence of the military all over and security was very tight, the soldiers had their weapons bayonet on. We heard of the restlessness of the religious group led by the ayatollahs but none was sighted. There were 7 of us in the technical and production crew headed by Kassim Aris. On arrival we were invited to visit the refugee camp in Kurdistan early next morning. I opted not to go to the annoyance of Kassim. After explaining that I needed to sort the radio facilities as I noticed the chaotic situation, Kassim relented. He himself decided to stay back and sort out the TV facilities. We were right in our decision as the situation remain unsorted even at midnight that day. Those who went for the trip came back well past 2 am. Zulkarnain Hassan told me it was a waste of time as it was more of propaganda thing than touristic. We had to continue sorting out the facilities the following day. Obviously the host broadcaster was not ready for the event as they depended on the foreign expertise and was having language problem as well. The only good thing was their eagerness to satisfy their guests by laying out sumptuous food on the table for us to savour at the International Broadcasting Centre IBC. Perhaps that cools down tempers.

Being Pioneer - The most memorable coverage I experience was being commentator at the 1978 Football FIFA World Cup final Buenos Aires, Argentina. This was TV Malaysia first coverage of the event at such a scale. I was honoured to be the first broadcaster to commentate in Malay live on the spot. Again security was strict as the country was under military dictatorship and there was a truce with the rebels as both sides wanted to showcase the country to the world via the month long tournament. We had a long and arduous journey from KL to the Argentine capital, lasting more than 40 hours. We had to sort the visa in Bangkok after an overnight stay. Then we had to catch the connecting flight after an interline stop-over in Frankfurt, Germany. Then it was off at night via Dakar, Senegal, crossing the Atlantic Ocean with stopover in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Both of us, my team leader and Producer Shaharoom Shaaban and I were dead tired by the time we cleared the immigration and customs at the airport. While waiting for our turn to take a taxi to our hotel, we didn’t realise that Shaharoom’s briefcase was snatched from the trolley by a thief. All our official documents including Shaharoom’s passport was in the briefcase. We were at a loss and made a police report. We had difficulty as we knew not Spanish the official language. The police wanted to detain Shaharoom for illegal entry. We had none of that and I decided to give a call to an ex-general who was befriended by Kassim and group that covered the World Cup Hockey final there several months earlier. The general was very kind. He came over immediately and sorted thing for us. The police check with the immigration and custom and was satisfied that our details were recorded. The police and the immigration gave Shaharoom a temporary entry permit. The general gave us a ride to our hotel. Then I contacted the Indonesian Ambassador who was a close friend of Dato Abdullah Mohamad our Director-General. The Ambassador was formerly President of Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union ABU as well DG of Radio Republic Indonesia. He advised us to go to the British Embassy as Malaysia which has no diplomatic relation with Argentina was accredited with them. We spent almost 3 weeks sorting Shaharoom’s temporary British passport and travel document. In the meantime all the official and financial documents had to be sorted out at KL and despatched to Buenos Aires under my name. The inflation was at its height in Argentina and the exchange rate fluctuates all the time. The Bank had strict ruling, all money had to be converted to the pesos. Just imagine the hardship of exchanging telegraph transfer in US dollars to pesos hard cash, and then back to US dollars as the European Broadcasting Union EBU who led the coverage on behalf of the International Broadcasting Consortium imposed the ruling that all payments must be in US dollar. Luckily most of the matches were in late afternoon and in the evening. At least I had the luxury of doing my forex activity in the morning after the visit to the British Embassy. That was an unforgettable experience, being commentator as well financial officer.

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