Foreign base the answer to achieving sports excellence?

There has been much hype over two women hockey players – Nuraini Abdul Rashid and Farah Ayuni Yahya – who are poised to make their European Hockey League debut later this year.

Goalkeeper Farah, 29, and defender/midfielder Nuraini, 28, will represent English club East Grinstead in West Sussex, in the continental league.

Farah from Johor has been playing in England since 2018 in four windows of three months each while Pahang-born Nuraini went there last year after a season in Italy.

Their stint at the club was arranged by former national women’s hockey coach K Dharmaraj who described them as the “two best women hockey players in Malaysia”.

Dharmaraj said East Grinstead demanded a high standard of hockey and that the two women had proved themselves capable.

Dharmaraj had also used his international connections to arrange playing stints for other players in the 2018 and 2019 German, Italian and English women’s hockey leagues.

These platforms enrich the players, giving them international experience and making them more mature in their play.

A few men players too have played in overseas leagues.

Other sports too can benefit from vital overseas exposure and training under top-notch coaches.

Twelve years ago, the proposed Brickendonbury High Performance Training Centre (HPTC) in Hertfordshire could have been our gateway to Europe and an opportunity to absorb a professional sports culture. However, the East Herts Council did not allow the plan to take off, citing environmental reasons.

Perhaps it is time for the ministry of youth and sports or the National Sports Council to consider setting up a HPTC in Europe as the numerous other ways that have been attempted to push Malaysian sports to optimum standards have produced little result.

Revisiting the idea for a HPTC in Hertfordshire, which was to be part of the Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre (TARRC), is still an option as the land belongs to the Malaysian government.

But judging from the lengthy process to gain permission to develop the place and possibly another round of public uproar, an alternative country seems a better option.

The planned HPTC in England met with objections from the Malaysian media and the public due to the astronomical building cost of RM490 million mentioned in a leaked paper to the Cabinet.

Criticism continued despite the government clarifying that the amount was the proposal to convert the TARRC into a full sports centre when its intention was to only develop part of it as the HPTC at a far lesser cost.

After much hue and cry the centre’s plans were laid to rest when the East Herts Council shot down the application for development of a part of the TARRC.

It cited nine reasons which included contravening the Metropolitan GreenBelt policy; being detrimental to the open and historic landscape; ecological issues; and threat to flooding and traffic congestion.

The Malaysian authorities decided not to file an appeal as they felt an appeal would heighten the adverse publicity and would also be time consuming.

Some, however, felt the government had handled the matter poorly and should have gone ahead with the project.

Had the HPTC in England become a reality, we would, in all probability, have witnessed many of our young sportspeople attain international finesse under the guidance of quality coaches and top sports scientists.

Former world squash champion Nicol David and top cyclist Azizulhasni Awang benefited greatly from being based in the Netherlands and Australia respectively.

Hockey defender A Francis played in Germany before returning to play in the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur while in 1977 junior player Updesh Singh returned from France to play in the 1979 Junior World Cup.

First time gold medallists Argentina, who beat Belgium 4-2 in the men’s hockey final at the 2016 Rio Olympics, were based in Holland from 2013. Their players were involved in the Dutch League with different teams and on their days off trained as a team.

In football, the likes of Wong Kam Fook, the late Chow Chee Keong, the late Wong Choon Wah and Yip Chee Keong, to name a few, played in Hong Kong in the 70s.

The only difference was these footballers played as professionals while the women hockey players went for overseas stints with their air tickets, accommodation and allowances paid for by the National Sports Council and lately by the clubs.

It has been proven on several occasions that with overseas-based programmes and stints, Malaysia has produced world class sportsmen and sportswomen.

As sports authorities pursue the never-ending hunt for a winning formula, perhaps an overseas base should now sit on the priority list.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Fake or not? Check our quick fake news buster here.