George Das: His eyes welled-up. There was a trickle rolling down his cheeks.
Tony Francis and I found ourselves in a rather awkward situation as we sat in front of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Malaya/Malaysia.
We did not know how to comfort him. We held back our questions as we allowed him to compose himself again.
I believe neither of us had ever been in a situation like this in our entire career. This took place on April 17th, 1975 at Tunku’s residence at Jalan Tunku (off Jalan Duta) in Kuala Lumpur.
Tony Francis from the New Straits Times and I (The Star) had arrived that late morning to interview Tunku. We had on many other occasions interviewed him as the Football Association of Malaysia president, but this time we never expected the “unexpected” to happen.
We had come to know that there was a diplomatic row brewing between Tunku, who was also at that time the president of the Asian Football Confederation, and some of the Arab affiliates. The Arabs backed by powerful Kuwait, had wanted Tunku to expel Israel from participating in the 1974 Teheran Asian Games football competition.
“I was not happy with this move,” I remember Tunku telling us.
He explained: ‘This is sports and I strongly feel that politics should not creep into sports. The two should be separate.”
Tunku, with a choking voice, continued: “They even called me an infidel and a Jew lover just for standing up for sports.” And that’s when his eyes welled up, his voice choked a bit and the tears of the man rolled slowly down his cheeks as we witnessed the emotional side of Tunku, a sports lover.
Tunku stood his ground against football being politicised but he found himself fighting a lone battle for what he believed. Israel played in the 1974 Asian Games which was their last appearance.
They continued to attack Tunku viciously for his stand.
Finding himself without the backing of his own country (Football Association of Malaysia), he resigned as its president after heading it from 1951 to February 1975. He quit AFC on Dec 11th 1977.