ASTC’s Secretary General and long time ITU Technical Official, Balwant Singh Kler has been awarded the Datukship by the Governor of Sabah State, Malaysia. The “Datuk” is equivalent to a “Knighthood” in Great Britain, and Balwant’s official title is now “Datuk Balwant Singh Kler.
Balwant was selected for the award because of his lifetime contribution to promote Sabah specifically and Malaysia in general as a tourist destination through sports.
The attached photo was taken at the Datukship award ceremony in Istana.
Following is a short history of the Kler family’s contribution to sport in Sabah. Balwant’s father Datuk Gurbaksh Singh Kler migrated to North Borneo in the early 1920s. He was not a very healthy man and was suffering from heart palpitations. The doctors advised him to walk three miles a day and go for swimming on Sundays. He was also advised to take only filtered water. Since walking took too long to cover the 3 miles, Gurbaksh started running the distance.
After he began to feel strong and healthy, he decided to take part in a 100 yards race organised by Jesselton Sports Club. Unfortunately he finished 50 yards behind the winner. This prompted Subehdar Dewa Singh Maan not only to scold him for his dismal performance but he added salt to the wound by remarking that Sikhs never loose out to the natives and not by a 50 yards margin in a 100 yards race. He rubbed-in further by saying that his performance was an insult to the Sikh community.
This remark stirred Gurbaksh Singh Kler to start training seriously. He ordered books on athletics from England for his training regime and a year later he participated in 440 yards, 880 yards, one mile and three miles races and won all of them by wide margins. This then prompted Subehdar Dewa Singh to claim that he had coached Gurbaksh Singh but Kler did not counter this false claim.
Sports indeed saved the life of Gurbaksh Singh Kler and it is well known in Malaysian sporting circles that he devoted his entire life to sports and became a walking encyclopedia of athletics track records of Malaysia and Asia. During his training sessions he used his three sons and two daughters as his guinea pigs and turned them into sportspersons.
In 1962 he organised a 3000 meters race in Sabah for girls and no girl came forward to participate. He ordered his daughter, Harcharan, to run and she completed the race. Only thereafter did other girls join in to compete in long distance events.
The sporting spirit has prevailed in the KLER FAMILY. The first runner in the KLER RELAY TEAM for DATUKSHIP was Gurbaksh Singh Kler himself, who was awarded the Datukship of Sabah in 1978. He was followed by his youngest son, Jaswant Singh Kler, as the second runner with a Datukship in 1996. Then came the turn of the eldest son, Dilbagh Singh Kler, as the third runner with a Datukship in 2005 and finally came the turn of the second son, Balwant Singh Kler, who eventually completed the missing link of the quartet with the award of Datukship on 24th October 2009.
Heartiest congratulations to the KLER FAMILY for their outstanding contributions to the State of Sabah. The KLER FAMILY has certainly set a fine example of service to the nation and has created history as recipients of Datukships which will be very hard to emulate by a Sikh family within two generations.