By Suresh Nair
FORMER Singapore rugby all-round hero Slemat Rakisan was hailed as a “gentle rugby star” when he played for Singapore, a rare breed of Malay sportsmen from Saint Andrew’s School, who went on to great heights as an international oval-ball stalwart.
But the 57-year-old father of three lost his life, rather tragically and in a freak way while riding his motorcycle, along the Kranji Expressway (KJE), towards the Bukit Timah Expressway, on Thursday afternoon.
The Straits Times reported that the motorcyclist skidded after he was struck by a tyre that fell off a trailer truck. A dashcam video of the accident, that has been circulating on social media, showed that the tyre strangely came from the opposite side of the highway.
It reportedly bounced across the road divider and struck the victim and his motorcycle, then narrowly missed another motorcyclist as it tumbled across the road. Slemat died on the spot, according to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
News of his dreadful death shocked the Singapore rugby fraternity as he was saluted as an international rugby role-model, who came from the rugby-fanatic Saint Andrew’s School, and excelled as a player, coach, referee, referee instructor and leading rugby administrator, internally and internationally.
Slemat was the Past President of the Singapore Society of Rugby Union Referees (SSRUR) and was one of two Singaporeans who served as Citing Commissioner (CC) with the Asian Rugby Union (ARU). He also served as Vice President of the Singapore Rugby Union (SRU).
Former Singapore Rugby Union (SRU) President Dr Chan Peng Mun wrote over Facebook: “A tragic and premature passing of a gentle rugby star. In the mid 90’s when rugby awoke from its slumber, he had put his shoulder to the wheel for rugby to gain momentum. Heaven welcomes a very able referee and rugby administrator.”
LOVE FOR RUGBY
SNOC (Singapore National Olympic Council) Vice President & current President of the SRU Low Teo Ping saluted Slemat’s outstanding contributions: “His love for rugby went beyond playing the sport. He went on to administer, referee, coach and promote. Slemat will be missed. RIP.”
Ridzal Saat, the Rugby Services manager at World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body, described Slemat as an “extraordinary role model at rugby and football”.
He added: “I’m lost for words. He was very special in many ways. Whatever Slemat touched, just turned wonders. He was outstanding as a player, referee, referee instructor, SRU senior official and was faithful in his sports-community work at Yuhua Community Club at football and he even actively served at Jamiyah Singapore, too, to help the Muslim community.”
SNOC Coach of the Year 1978 Natahar Bava, who won the MRU (Malaysian Rugby Union) Cup in 1978, recollects “Slemat as a brave sporting teenager, one of the few Malays who excelled in rugby at St Andrew’s School”.
“He created the right first impression as a hardworking sportsman, prepared to give more than 100 per cent in the field of play,” he said. “I brought him to the national team, when he was just a schoolboy and he later played for Police Sports Association in the SRU League and naturally made his way to the national team.”
Natahar, hailed as the most successful national rugby coach ever with MRU Cup-winning sides in 1978 & 1982 as well as Asian third-placing for Singapore in 1978, added: “More outstandingly, Slemat returned back the favours to the oval-sport very graciously as a coach, referee and served the SRU with distinction. He’s a very rare breed of an outstanding rugby gentleman.”
SNOC Sportsman of the Year 1978 Song Koon Poh (Singapore Under 23 1971; Singapore 1972-1991 & Captain – 1975-77, 1979-1981 & 1984-1987) said Slemat was a key player from 1980 to 1982 as a fullback and starred in the1980 ARFU (Asian Rugby Football Union) Championship in Taipei, Taiwan.
He added: “He’s a dedicated rugby stalwart on and off the field. After his playing career, he was the main organiser of the Police team in the late 1980s and 90s. He definitely stood out as one of the rare Malay rugby players to graduate from St Andrew’s School. Slemat was truly a ‘Saint’.
“Praiseworthy, he later worked very hard as a coach, referee, referee instructor and later rose to higher positions at the SRU.”
Among Slemat’s coaching career highlights was as the National Development Squad Under-16 coach in 2005 when he led the boys for a Darwin tour in Northern Australia, where the team was unbeaten in three matches.
Mohamad Taufik, one of his trainees, recalled how Slemat convinced his parents not to stop his rugby career during schooldays. He wrote on Facebook: “He was a special coach that helped me in more ways that I could imagine. He was humble, laid back and a player-legend in the 1980s. I can never repay the special attention he showered on me and for that, I will never stop loving the oval-ball sport.”
Taufik said coach Slemat was also the “fun guru” as he sang and danced with the players, off the field of play, to create a “very friendly mood for the team”. He added: “We enjoyed every moment with him as he made rugby, usually a tough-tackling sport, very fun to play and enjoy.”
Retired rugby international referee Sumadi Sarkawi, an ex-Berita Harian journalist and also a former international who played in the MRU Cup-winning team of 1978, praised Slemat as a “disciplined and dedicated international referee who was one of two Singaporeans appointed as a Citing Commissioner by the IRU (International Rugby Union)”.
A Citing Commissioner (CC) is an independent official who is responsible for citing players who commit any act of foul play, which in the opinion of the CC warranted the player concerned to be sent off the field of play.
Sumadi added: “He dedicated his post-playing years to coaching and refereeing and as an international referee, he was Past President for five years of the Singapore Society of Rugby Union Referees (SSRUR) and helped develop the next generation of rugby judges.”
Former Berita Harian Sports Editor Saparin Rasikin described Slemat as “very press friendly”. He added: “He was a joy for any journalist as he found time to speak to the media in good or not-so-good times. A very humble player and I must say, he was a good friend, too.”
Saparin added that Slemat hailed during a “special rugby era” in the late 1970s and 80s, where Malay players excelled in the oval-sport with stalwart names like Bohari Sarmani, Buzari Kayat, Naharudin Ali, Osman Haron, Sumadi Sarkawi, Mohd Taib, Hamzah Mohd and Mahat Zainoodin.
“It was the glorious time for football, too, with the Malaysia Cup fever and the ‘Kallang Roar’ but I was very pleased that in a colonial-structured sport like rugby, several Malays starred for Singapore, even at the highest Asian level,” said Saparin.
Goodbye, “gentle rugby star” Slemat Rakisan.
In ending, I genuinely moan the heart-rending loss of a compassionate and caring player, coach and referee, who passed on the crudest of ways in a grievous road accident.
RIP Slemat Rakisan. Singapore rugby will always remember you for the right reasons as a sportsman and oval-ball gentleman.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist, who covered the rugby heroics of the late Slemat Rakisan during the 1980s.