Arumugam Vijiaratnam

“We always played to win. We never wanted to lose. But whenever we lost, we took it positively”

This was shared by Dr Vijiaratnam who has on record the biggest sporting achievement in Singapore. He is probably the only Singaporean who has donned the Singapore colors in four games at an international level - a feat which is listed in the Singapore Guinness Book Of Records: Quadruple International.

Not only is he the first Singaporean to play four games at national level, he is the first Singaporean engineer, first pro-chancellor of Nanyang Technical University (NTU), first Asian Vice President of the Institution of Structural Engineers in UK and more importantly, the first Singaporean government scholar to demonstrate that sports and studies can be balanced successfully.

94 year old Dr Viji beams with pride and joy as he shares the key moments from his past as best as he can remember. Extraordinary feats as they may be, to Dr VIji it was simply a matter of making the best of the opportunities presented to him to make Singapore proud.



Dr Viji played soccer, hockey, rugby and cricket equally well at the national level. But when asked about his favourite game – his immediate answer was soccer. He says it was one game that garnered great public support, and still does, evident today amongst Singaporeans.

In his younger days, he used to play soccer with his friends in any space that was available. The reason was simple – it was the cheapest game to play, as it required only a ball and a couple of enthusiastic players. In addition, in those days, schools had only one session and tuition was unheard of - which meant there was ample time to play games after school. While Viji was playing in the soccer league, the rugby master spotted him and recruited him for rugby. When he was studying in KL Technical College, he played soccer and won many competitions. It was also there that he picked up cricket and continued with it when he came back to Singapore.

He recalled that on his return in 1955 from overseas studies, he turned his attention to hockey instead, because of a thigh-muscle injury. He played for Ceylon Sports Club and did not expect to be part of the Olympic team. But Viji was an exceptional player on par with or even better than his younger counterparts and was a natural choice for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games in hockey. He was 35 then and played the role of striker. Out of 28 goals scored, he was responsible for nine.

He retired from all games in 1958 in the order of soccer, rugby, cricket and hockey respectively. Yet despite retiring from sports, he was not easily forgotten in the sports field. To add to his list of “Firsts”, he was the First President of the Ex-National Soccer Players Association. This association was formed to remember the ex-national players and provided opportunities for them to continue playing. They had annual games with Malaysian ex-national players and even played against Germany‘s ex-national players, which was watched by an amazing 35,000 strong crowd at the National stadium.

But for Dr Viji, nothing beats the glory of participating in the pinnacle of all sporting events – the Olympic Games.


“We never wanted to lose. But whenever we lost, we took it positively.”

Dr Viji’s path to become an engineer was riddled with many bumps, but he was determined to become an engineer and he achieved it despite all the challenges.

Although he was offered a place in the Raffles Institution, he missed the deadline to join and ended up in Victoria School. He received a scholarship in 1940 from PWD to study engineering in the Technical College in Kuala Lumpur as there was no engineering school in Singapore. In Dec 1941, the Japanese war started and he had to come back to Singapore and report to PWD. But he was sent packing back to Malaysia, Malacca as he could not converse in Japanese. He then eventually returned to studies and completed technical college at KL in 1944. Unsurprisingly, he graduated first among the 50 students. Sadly, the British who returned after the war failed to recognize the diploma issued during the Japanese occupation. So he returned to KL to graduate from the British program but the British still did not recognize the technical college certificate to became an official engineer. As per the requirement, in 1946, he did the London Matriculation as a correspondence course by himself and passed in 1948 with a first class diploma. In 1949, another scholarship for civil engineering from PWD became available. Dr Viji was one of two candidates who were awarded this prestigious scholarship. A feat, which was made possible only because of his status as a state player for Cricket and his stellar results in exams. He went on to UK Brighton to do his further studies on this scholarship.

Dr Vijiaratnam has had a long and distinguished career as an engineer and served in various capacities in the Public Works Department and the Port of Singapore Authority from 1954 to 1980.


“I became an engineer, as there were no Asian engineers at that time.”

Although he led a busy life, it did not stop Dr Viji from contributing to various public service boards.

As a member of Hindu Endowment board, his engineering knowledge came in useful to move the Sivan temple from Orchard to Geylang. The temple took about 4 years to be built and after ensuring smooth operation, he retired from HEB. He was also Chairman of Tamil Murusu (TM) when SPH bought over TM. His job then was to better the sales. He introduced ideas, for example to publish mockup exam papers, essays to increase student readership, to make it the paper more marketable. The sale of TM increased by 10-15% during his leadership.

He was appointed a member of the Liquor Licensing Board, Science Council and Presidential Council of Minority Rights. He was also appointed as Chairman of the Institute of Engineers, Commissioner to conduct an enquiry into the collapse of Hotel New World, and Arbitrator of Engineering issues.

We must admit that we may not have captured all his contributions but we are confident that his story will inspire many of us to seize every opportunity and rise above challenges to do something worthwhile beyond the call of duty.

50faces is honoured to have met Mr Viji and we wish him the best of health.


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