‘ASIAN GAMES 1966 BANGKOK THAILAND.’ The simple yet concise Facebook posting together with images of two souvenir programmes and a small green box containing teaspoons immediately catches my attention. With so many Malaysian athletes vying for medals at the ongoing 18th Asiad in Indonesia, there has been a marked increase in the number of vendors offering Asian Games related material for sale on social media.
While generally ignoring a large percentage of the Facebook postings, I jump at the opportunity to acquire the two booklets. My reason is simple. The 1966 Asiad was where our country posted its best ever medal table position in the history of the Asian Games. At the close of that event, Malaysia, which was then a very young nation of just 3 years of age, held a respectable fourth ranking after chalking an unexpected haul of seven gold, five silver and six bronze medals.
My new acquisitions arrive just two days after the transaction was completed. The smaller of the two, a palm-sized booklet, is the official Asian Games programme produced by the host country, Thailand.
ASIAN GAMES ORIGIN
To my delight, there’s a rather comprehensive narration about the early history of the Asiad in the first few pages. I discover that prior to the existence of the Asian Games, sporting competitions among Asian nations were held at a gathering known as the Far Eastern Championship Games (FECG). The idea to hold this event was first mooted in 1912 with three countries, Japan, China and the Philippines, agreeing to take turns to play host.
The first FECG was held at the Manila Carnival grounds on Feb 4, 1913. Known also as the First Oriental Olympic Games, this meet saw the participation of six countries — the Philippines, China, Japan, Malaya (represented by the Federated Malay States), Thailand and Hong Kong.
Over the next two decades, a total of 10 more FECG were organised. The last meet in 1934 was held during a time when China and Japan were undergoing a tense relationship resulting from the Japanese invasion and eventual occupation of Manchuria some three years earlier.
Japan insisted that its latest annexed territory be included as a separate competitor nation in the FECG. Naturally, China protested the inclusion and subsequently withdrew from participation. The tense political situation deteriorated until it reached a point of no return. The Second Sino-Japanese War which began in Sept 1937 rang the death knell for the FECG which was set to take place in 1938.
BIRTH OF ANOTHER VERSION
At around that same time, the short-lived Western Asiatic Games was established on the other side of the continent. Basically, it mirrored the FECG in nearly all aspects. Organised by India’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) representative, Guru Dutt Sondhi, this new sporting event accepted athletes belonging to nations located to the east of the Suez and west of Singapore (then part of the British Straits Settlements).
The first and only edition of the Western Asian Games was held for five days at Delhi’s Irwin Amphitheatre in India starting from Feb 27, 1934. Participants from four countries, Afghanistan, India, Palestine and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) competed in athletics, swimming, diving and hockey. Although a second event was planned for 1938, it too had to be cancelled due to the looming threat of war creeping in from Europe.
BIRTH OF THE ASIAN GAMES
The end of World War II in 1945 saw quite a number of Asian countries gaining the right to self-rule. These newly independent nations began voicing their desire for the formation of a new type of competition which would serve to strengthen ties among member countries as well as encourage mutual understanding between nations.
The idea to restart the FECG surfaced among participants from China and the Philippines who were present at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. Sondhi, however, felt that the old format couldn’t sufficiently display the spirit of unity and level of achievement taking place in the rapidly developing Asian nations.
Consequently, Sondhi proposed the setting up of a completely new competition that included all nations in Asia. A series of consultations were subsequently held among representatives from the Olympic Committees of Burma (now Myanmar), the Philippines and India. Finally, a decision was made to stage the competition once every four years. Everyone agreed that the dates should fall exactly in between those of the Olympic Games.
On Feb 13, 1949, the Asian Athletic Federation was formally inaugurated in New Delhi and the city was given the honour of hosting the first Asian Games scheduled to be held in 1950.
Unfortunately, preparations couldn’t be completed within the stipulated time and the inaugural opening had to be postponed to March 1951. This delay had a far reaching effect on all subsequent Asian Games as they would not fall exactly between the Olympic Games if the stipulated four year interval were to be strictly adhered to!
In order to remain true to the original plan, the Asian Games officials changed the schedule for the Second Asian Games in Manila to 1954, leaving an unprecedented interval of only three years from the first meet. This simple yet effective solution solved the problem for all subsequent Asiads.
While the Third Asian Games in Tokyo concluded without any untoward incidents, the same couldn’t be said for the 1962 Asiad held in Jakarta. Prior to the opening, the host country Indonesia succumbed to pressure from Arab countries and the People’s Republic of China by refusing to issue visas for the Israeli and Taiwanese delegations.
The move infuriated the IOC and led to its sponsorship withdrawal for the Indonesian Asian Games. At the same time, Indonesia’s IOC membership was also terminated. This effectively prevented the country from participating in future IOC-sponsored Olympic Games.
A few days later, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) and International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) followed the example set by the IOC and removed their recognition of the Indonesian Asiad. Fortunately, these moves proved to be temporary in nature and Indonesia eventually re-joined the international sporting organisations several years later.
The historical narration ends by stating that the 12-day Thai Asiad was officially declared open by the-then Thai monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Dec 9, 1966. A total of 142 events in 14 sports were contested. The women’s volleyball event made history when it made its inaugural debut in the Asiad that involved a total of 2,500 athletes and officials from 18 participating countries, including Taiwan and Israel.
As I continue flipping the pages, a small plastic bag falls out from between the pages. Picking it up, I notice that the bag contains the complete set of stamps featuring eight major sporting events contested at the 1966 Asiad. Two of these stamps have special significance to me as they depict the sports that helped our country end the 1966 Asian Games in style.
Athletics yielded five gold medals in the men’s 100 metres (Mani Jegathesan), men’s 200 metres (Mani Jegathesan), men’s 4 X 100 metres relay (Mani Jegathesan, Mohd Ariffin Ahmad, Rajalingam Gunaratnam and Thomboo Krishnan), men’s javelin throw (Nashatar Singh Sidhu) and women’s 400 metres (Mary Rajamani).
The three gold medals won by Jegathesan earned him the glowing accolade of being the fastest man in Asia. A medical practitioner by profession, Jegathesan was a national icon when it came to athletics. Back in the 1960s, he was so successful in blazing the tracks at home and abroad that his fans dubbed him the “Flying Doctor of Malaysia”.
The other two gold medals came from badminton where Ng Boon Bee and Tan Yee Khan won the men’s doubles while Teh Kew San and Rosalind Singha Ang paired up to take the mixed doubles crown.
LIFE AT THE GAMES
My curiosity about how the Malaysian contingent lived in Bangkok is answered in the last few pages in the booklet which provides information about the Games Village. Located at Klong Chan, which is about 20 kilometres from the National Sport Complex, the village housed up to 3,000 athletes during the 1966 Asiad.
Accommodation came in the form of 524 two-storey houses for the men and 10 apartment buildings for the women. All were equipped with comfortable bedrooms, spacious lounge areas, modern toilets and well-equipped kitchenettes complete with pre-installed hot water systems. The daily cost for accommodation, food and transport was fixed at US$6 per participant.
The village also had three dining areas which were managed by the Games’ Food and Accommodation Committee. The food served were closely monitored by registered physicians and dieticians while the menu boasted of a wide range of dining options including European, Chinese, Muslim and Thai cuisines.
In order to help the athletes relax, a variety of supporting facilities were made available at the Games Village. Located near the entrance were the shopping centre, open air theatre as well as recreational areas. The shopping centre consisted of shops that were leased out to private enterprises. Available for sale were popular Thai products like silk and brassware.
Brassware! The spoons that came together with the booklets are made of brass! Everything is slowly coming together now. The booklets, stamps and spoons must have belonged to someone who attended the Asian Games in Bangkok and subsequently brought the items back as precious keepsakes.
The next thing that comes to mind is whether the previous owner was a Malaysian athlete or a non-participating representative. The best clue to this must surely be the two identical signatures on the front cover of the second booklet — the official Malaysian programme for the 1966 Asiad. Perhaps learning the significance of the numeral 6221 scribbled below the larger signature may lead to the identity of this person? Only time will tell if my question will ever be answered.
The remainder of the programme provides a complete list of Malaysians who were in Bangkok for the Games. At a glance, many of them were just at the beginning of their sporting careers at that time.
At present, Thailand holds the record for hosting the Asian Games for the most number of times. The 1998 Asiad marked the fourth time the Games was held in Bangkok. The fourth opening ceremony occurred on Dec 6 as opposed to the Dec 9 date which marked the previous three. All four Asiads in Thailand were declared opened by King Bhumibol Adulyadej while the closing ceremony date for all four Thai Asiads was always held on Dec 20.
Just as I’m about to put the items away, a news alert highlighting an assured gold medal for Malaysia in the women’s squash singles flashes on my computer screen. The all-Malaysian final, set to take place at the Gelora Bung Karno Squash Stadium, will see defending champion Nicol David take on debutant S. Sivasangari (David later emerged the victor).
Sivasangari’s success bodes well for the future of Malaysian sports. Hopefully the other promising athletes who form Malaysia’s next generation of sportsmen and sportswomen are able to take on the challenge and help their seniors bring glory to our nation. Who knows, with a little bit of luck on their side, our contingent may even end the Indonesian Asian Games with a better medal table position than the one achieved in Bangkok 52 years ago.