FMT LETTER: V. Thomas via e-mail
Malaysiaâ€™s disastrous outing in the just-concluded mens Hockey World Cup in The Hague, where the team finished last among 12 nations despite large investments of money and other resources, has exposed various shortcomings and problems.
Despite various local competitions, the quality of hockey has not improved much and there are only a limited number of capable players.
Previously the bastion of hockey was in urban areas especially in secondary schools. Most of these schools have lost their hockey fields so no hockey is played there anymore. Instead hockey is now more concentrated in residential schools that have good sports and training facilities. This explains why there are now more Malay youngsters in the national team whereas previously Indians and Eurasians dominated the sport.
A closer look at the team reveals that except for a handful of players, the others are average and may not improve or impress no matter what training is provided. Some lack size and this could be a handicap when facing stronger and taller European players.
Needless to say hockey must be made popular again as a sport of choice for students to enable more skilful and talented players to emerge in larger numbers. Clearly hockey has been in the doldrums for quite some time and needs a big revival.
Sultan Azlan Shahâ€™s recent demise was a big loss in more ways than one. He was a prime mover and a visionary for hockey since the 1980s and he initiated various competitions, programmes, a scholarship scheme as well as enabled hockey to have a major profile in the government and the country. If not for him hockey could have ended up like cricket in Malaysia, which had its heydays in the 1960s and 1970s. The Sultanâ€™s passing must have also emotionally affected the Malaysian team and their administrators during the World Cup.
The Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) too needs to opt for officials who are passionate, competent and interested in addressing the shortcomings and problems associated with Malaysian hockey.
Just because one is a royalty or a corporate figure, a tycoon, a politician or even an ex-player, it is no guarantee that the team can be easily transformed as Malaysian hockey faces many challenges and troubleshooting is needed frequently.
Another revelation of The Hague World Cup was the collective decline of Asian hockey. One time hockey powerhouse Pakistan was not even represented, and India, Malaysia and South Korea performed poorly.
As such there is a need to address this downtrend by initiating an Asian Hockey Academy â€“ sited possibly in Malaysia â€“ where centralised coaching and training can be provided for participating countries.
A covered Astroturf stadium to provide weather-proof training for the participants, top notch international coaches and trainers as well as other facilities and incentives can be provided at an economical cost instead of the countries doing it alone. Combining resources will be a winning formula for Asian teams such as Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Japan, China and South Korea.
Further the International Hockey Federation (FIH) needs to be more sensible as holding the Hockey World Cup so close to the FIFA World Cup led to a total media shut out of the former. The Womenâ€™s Hockey World Cup also held at the same time, suffered the same fate. Couldnâ€™t the tournaments be held at a more favourable time?