The man who packed a mighty Punch — Dan Guen Chin
AUG 17 — Those who knew the late Punch Gunalan well will tell you that the man’s love for badminton was unquestionable — as a player, as an official and later as an administrator — and that he excelled in all three capacities.
Gunalan died on Wednesday after battling liver cancer.
He was born Panchacharan Gunalan but, in the late ‘60s, the late Norman Siebel, then the sports editor of the New Straits Times (NST), decided to call him “Punch” to describe his powerful smashes and the name stuck.
What a punch he packed, especially in the doubles with Ng Boon Bee. The duo ruled the world in the mid ‘70s, and marked their dominance by winning the prestigious All-England title in 1971.
Gunalan also won the Asian Games singles gold medal in Bangkok in 1970 and remains the only Malaysian to do so today.
Even when he retired and became a coach, Gunalan made a huge impact. In 1976, he guided the young Malaysia squad — known as Punch’s babies because most of the players, save for James Selvaraj and Phua Ah Hua, were below the age of 20 — to the Thomas Cup final where they lost to the Indonesians.
Sixteen years later, Gunalan finally won the elusive Thomas Cup when he guided the Malaysian national team to victory on home soil.
One reason Malaysia won the Thomas Cup in 1992 was because Gunalan was not afraid to recognise his own limitations as a coach.
I remember him telling me in the wee hours of the morning, after China defeated Malaysia 3-0 to nail the 1990 Beijing Asian Games team title, that Malaysia must hire the best in the world in order to beat the best.
He lived up to his words when he returned home after hiring Han Jian and Yang Yang, two former world No. 1 players from China, as national team coaches. The rest, as they say, was Thomas Cup history.
Gunalan eventually gave up coaching to become an administrator in the Badminton Association of Malaysia. From there, he quickly rose within the International Badminton Federation (now the Badminton World Federation) to become deputy president.
He was a passionate advocate of the game who worked tirelessly to raise its popularity worldwide. To ensure badminton’s relevance as a modern game, he introduced brightly-coloured outfits for the women players and loud blaring music in between matches, and constantly came up with ideas to make badminton a more television-friendly sport.
But he also had his enemies in the BWF who eventually ousted him with a vote of no-confidence at a annual general meeting at the Sultan Hotel in Jakarta in 2008.
That meeting was so heated that Gunalan was escorted by police to his hotel room after the vote was passed. He then left the Indonesian capital in a huff.
Sadly, he never recovered from that humiliating episode. Life went downhill for him from then on. He rarely left his Petaling Jaya home and was subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He also had heart surgery but died of liver cancer on Wednesday.
Gunalan will always be remembered as a powerful man within badminton, one who counted among his friends Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Sultan of Brunei, who he almost persuaded to run for the BWF presidency, although that did not materialise.
I remember Gunalan telling me that the Sultan chose not to run because Gunalan could not guarantee that no one would challenge him for the leadership.
Gunalan is no more but he will always be talked about when it comes to badminton.
Maybe his enemies would think otherwise, but I am sure those who hated his guts when he was alive would still say that, for all his faults and weaknesses, Gunalan remains the man to whom the sport of badminton owes a note of thanks. — Today
* Veteran sports journalist Dan Guen Chin, 58, worked at the New Straits Times from 1980 to 2006. During his 26 years there, he covered many editions of the SEA, Asian and Commonwealth Games as well as the 1998 World Cup finals. He joined Today in January.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.