He is most renowned for scoring the winning goal with his shoulder blade in the 1998 AFF Cup final, one which won Singapore their first major football title. As a full-fledged Singaporean international with over 70 caps, R.Sasikumar was an uncompromising defender who never shirked a physical challenge. Widely viewed as a defensive lynchpin during his prime, he was also someone who was always prepared to put himself on the line to win a game. But more than two decades have passed since and the Sasikumar that most people would know today is much more than just a football hardman.
Having swapped his rugged football kit for a stylish business suit, Sasikumar today wears many different hats – an entrepreneur, a radio show host and a sports pundit, among others. While he has excelled in many different domains, the media industry is one where he has undoubtedly left his mark.
Helming his own sports radio show on CNA938 since last year, Sasikumar has been actively telling the stories of sportspeople on the airwaves, receiving numerous plaudits from many listeners along the way. danamic. sat down with the man himself to find out more about his radio show as well as his other exploits in the media industry since hanging up his boots.
“Media has always been close to my heart. And it was a boyhood dream of mine to have my own radio show and tell the stories the way I wanted to tell it,” shared the 45-year-old, who was offered the opportunity after a meeting with the chief editor of Mediacorp. “It’s an amazing medium, and I just look forward to presenting every weekend.”
On his show, Sasikumar can often be found discussing the latest happenings surrounding both local and international sports. A key highlight that resonated most with his listeners would be the stories from the illustrious retired sports personalities that he brings on weekly. The star-studded guestlist included former national athletes, such as bowler Remy Ong, sprinter U.K. Shyam and footballer Lim Tong Hai, to name a few.
He said: “I try to bring on the former athletes who have faded away into the background. The CNA radio listenership is more mature so they would remember the heroes of yesteryear and people do really enjoy these sorts of stories as it brings them back down memory lane. I suppose that’s the gap that I’m trying to fill and so far, it has been successful.”
While radio has now turned into the leading platform of communication for Sasikumar, it was on the small screen of television where he made his first foray into the media business. Starting out as a football pundit with ESPN STAR Sports, he vividly remembers being a nervous wreck during his maiden appearance on TV.
“In the first show that I was presenting as a pundit, I was really bad. I was so nervous that I forgot my lines and the players’ names,” recalled Sasikumar, who is also the Founder of sports marketing agency, Red Card Global. “So, I went back home that night and thought to myself that I will never be asked to present on TV ever again.”
Thus, it came as a surprise when the broadcasters subsequently called him back, and Sasikumar soon became a regular fixture when it came to football punditry or commentary.
He has certainly come a long way since. The confidence that he exudes today when speaking on radio or TV is indeed a far cry from his self-proclaimed fumbling self at the beginning. But as Sasikumar confessed, he had to put in hours of hard work to reach his present state.
“I took confidence in the fact that I will only get better, and I just modelled what I did in football, which was to practice really hard. I became a student of communications and started observing people who were successful,” he explained.
“When you are on TV, you only have less than a minute each time to make your point. So, you cannot be too long-winded. But at the same time, you still have to take the high-level information that’s going on in your mind and bring it down to eye level for the viewers.
“While I’m not as polished as other professional presenters, I do my best by trying to improve my vocabulary and presentation skills. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and there has certainly been plenty of training and self-taught things along the way.”
Despite Sasikumar’s honest admission about not being the most eloquent of speakers, he has more than made up for it by being a straight talker, never hiding behind sugar-coated words. His style seemed to have worked for the most parts, with audiences appreciating his candidness. His background as a sportsman has also gifted him with the knowledge to provide insightful analysis. However, he maintained that his main goal has always been to connect with the man on the street.
“I suppose the entire industry sees me as a voice now because I’m not someone who is politically correct. I have never been that way,” he commented. “I always like to be relatable to the guy who is sitting in the pub and watching the game. That’s why I try to be authentic and say the things that people say when they are just sitting down with their friends.”
Given that Sasikumar’s job in the media seemed to mainly revolve around having conversations, albeit on public platforms, it is no surprise that people outside the industry would cast doubts about how difficult it could be.
However, as highlighted by him, what the audience sees on TV or listens to on the radio is the final product, and behind the glitz and glamour of every media assignment lies sheer tenacity and painstaking hard work.
“I used to do TV when the internet was not available so you can imagine the amount of reading I had to do from magazines and newspapers just to prepare for a show. It was five to six hours of preparation and what you are saying on screen might only be thirty seconds,” he said.
“As for my radio show right now, I have four hours of content to fill, and there is a great amount of production that goes on behind the scenes. From the recording to the scriptwriting to booking the guest, it’s a lot of work.”
Beyond the difficult production work for his radio show, Sasikumar also revealed that getting the right guests onboard was no mean feat. And inviting a famous one was not a guarantee for a successful show. He had seen some of them freezing up on the mic and responding to his questions with conversation-killing one-liners. Essentially, personalities who on paper had exciting stories to tell sometimes ended up falling short of expectations when placed on air.
Additionally, criticism of his work in the media was commonplace, and it was something that he had to deal with. But Sasikumar was never deterred and often took it in his stride. He believed that the insults and expletives hurled at him during his playing days had built him up to be resilient.
“A great man once told me that if you don’t have haters, you have not arrived,” he remarked.
“You can’t have everyone loving you, which is also dangerous, so there will be some who will not like the work that I do.
“Nobody likes getting hate mails and tweets, and I’m only human. But after a while, I just brush it away and not pay too much attention. I have very thick skin, and I’m already immune to this kind of criticism from my days as a footballer.”
The bright lights and intense scrutiny that comes with being in the media industry is certainly not for everyone. But for Sasikumar, being under the spotlight has almost become second nature since shooting to fame in 1998.
While he has long since hung up his boots, his career in the media has meant that he remains an important voice for many in the sports industry. And you can certainly expect him to continue telling the quality stories of sportspeople, just like how the media did for his back in those days.
They have always been the ones telling the stories of others, and now it’s time for us to share their stories instead. This article is part of a brand-new series, Stories of the Storytellers, where danamic. looks into the lives of media professionals and tell their often-unheard stories. Have someone you’d like us to feature? Write in: [email protected]
Photos courtesy of R. Sasikumar.