The Sporting Prince

The man behind the bid that brought the International Olympic Committee to Kuala Lumpur is none other than Malaysia’s famous sporting prince, Tunku Imran Tuanku Ja’afar. VisionKL caught up with the busy royal in his office recently to talk about the upcoming IOC Session. Tunku Imran’s office, unsurprisingly, embodies the Prince’s passion – sport. Cabinets and all available shelves are filled to the brim with sporting memorabilia. Gleaming trophies commemorating sporting events and achievements line the window sills. Photos of a beaming Tunku Imran with sporting teams and prominent sports personalities adorn the walls. 

Pictures of the dashing, young prince playing squash are also displayed on the gallery. “Yes, that was forty pounds ago,” Tunku Imran laughs. With typical modesty, the Prince, who hails from the Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan, neglected to mention that he was Malaysia’s national squash champion in 1973. He then went on to become the President of the World Squash Federation in 1989, and subsequently its Patron.

As we discovered, Tunku Imran has an easy-going manner and a jovial nature, which belie his prowess as a first-rate sports administrator. He also has that most rare of attributes, not just among blue-bloods but also among the most ordinary of men, which is the ability to laugh at himself. When asked what was his most memorable sporting moment, he chuckled that it was the struggle involving the opening of the Queen’s Baton at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in 2014. While lesser men would have been embarrassed, Tunku Imran tool it all in a good humour. 

Tunku Imran’s self deprecating and humorous style is also reflected in the artwork on his office wall. Next to images of the Prince on magazine covers are framed drawings by Malaysia’s iconic cartoonist, Lat. Not many people would put up a cartoon of themselves in a leotard, let alone a prince! As we chatted, we learned a lot more about Tunku Imran than is commonly known. For example, few people know that he gamely participated in last year’s ALS #IceBucketChallenge. How’s that for a sporting prince!

A photo of Tunku Imran playing cricket with Sir Garry Sobers holds pride of place in the centre of the collection. He shares that it was one of the highlights of his life to have played with the cricketing legend.

Cricket is of course very dear to his heart. A keen player, Tunku Imran was President of the Malaysian Cricket Association from 1991 to 2011 and Vice-President of the Asian Cricket Council from 1993 to 2004. He was also a member of the Executive Board of the International Cricket Council (ICC) for ten years.

 These and other roles are ample evidence that Tunku Imran takes his love of sport very seriously indeed. He has been actively involved in international sports administration for the past 40 years, holding various positions with national, regional and international sports bodies.

Among the many hats Tunku Imran wears these days, the most prominent among them is the one he wears as President of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF). Another key position is as Member of the International Olympic Committee. It was this latter role that led to Malaysia’s winning bid to host the IOC’s 128th Session this month.

Winning the bid
As Tunku Imran revealed, winning a bid to host an IOC Session is not easy. Kuala Lumpur had previously bid in 2010 but lost out. Undeterred, Malaysia bid again for the 128th Session and won.  “It was a joint bid by the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) and the Government of Malaysia. We got it and then we had to work very hard to put it all together,” he says.

The key points that won KL the bid were its experience in hosting worldclass conferences, along with the City’s infrastructure and facilities. “Malaysia has beaches, islands and eco-tourism, the best food and many other things but in the end what persuaded them was the fact that Kuala Lumpur is a modern city and has the ability to deliver a very good and enjoyable Session. “We have a good team, mainly from the board of OCM, and the government of Malaysia, and the hotels and convention centre people are very experienced with dealing with international events,” Tunku Imran added.

Sporting Dreams
With regard to Malaysia’s 2016 Olympic gold medal hopes, Tunku Imran sees badminton as having the best prospects. So far, Malaysia has had silver medals — won by Malaysian singles champion Dato’ Lee Chong Wei in 2008 and 2012, and doubles team Yap Kim Hock and Cheah Soon Kit in 1996. The Sidek brothers, Jalani and Razif, won Malaysia’s first ever Olympic medal – a bronze – back in 1992. As for his wishes for the future development of sport in Malaysia, Tunku Imran was hard hitting in his observations.

“Malaysians like their sports but there aren’t enough organised sports for the average person. Once you leave school or college and you play football, where do you continue to play?” He asks. His wish is for underutilised sports facilities to be made more available to the public. On a personal level, Tunku Imran’s big dream is to have squash in the Olympics. “We can possibly get it in for 2020,” he says. “In 2009, they went for two new sports and that time, golf and rugby came in, so squash didn’t make it, but squash will get there one day.”

Malaysia hosting the IOC Session fulfils another dream for Tunku Imran and our sporting Prince is determined to be the perfect host to his esteemed fellow IOC members. We can assure them that they could not be in better hands!

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