You can gather a team of plough horses, and train them to run faster, but that’s all they will ever be, just fast plough horses, not thoroughbred racehorses.
The current national men’s senior hockey team, discarded from yet another Olympics, are a manifestation of this pedigree-less equine.
Simply put, even if you get the best jockey to ride a plough horse, he will never be able to transform it into a thoroughbred.
Likewise, even if the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) had engaged one of the world’s best coaches, say, Ric Charlesworth, to take this mediocre side to Muscat for the Olympic qualifiers, he wouldn’t have done any better than coach Arul Selvaraj.
For, even if hockey’s best minds come up with the most ingenious and carefully-laid plans, they will still fail because this Malaysian side doesn’t have the kind of pedigree to build inventive tactics on.
So, if MHC are going to relieve Selvaraj of his national duties, then they should also drop at least 80% of a team entrenched in mediocrity. But if they are going to keep him, then MHC would want to consider sending him overseas for an upgrade on his technical knowledge.
Having said that, you can’t apportion any blame to these mediocre players either, because sadly they have all been victims of a heavily-flawed system – a spoon-fed culture that had progressively weakened their tenacity, and concertedly dulled their competitive spirit.
Which is why, I almost jumped off my seat in glee, when I read former TV3 sports broadcast journalist and current sports analyst, Pekan Ramli, attributing one of the team’s failures to its totally imbalanced racial composition.
Given the sensitivities, his observation was well-received and welcomed by those members of the hockey fraternity who belonged to the minority races that had once dominated the sport.
Pekan had stressed the importance of reinstating a more balanced, multiracial composition in the national squad.
“Each race brings something different to the team, and the strengths of the different races complement one another, making us stronger,” he had told Timesport, recently.
I am certain, no true blue, discerning Malaysian will argue with that, because it is our diversity that makes us strong. History bears testimony to this Malaysian phenomenon, principally in the nation’s two main team sports – football and hockey.
Strong multiracial football teams took Malaysia to the 1972 Munich Olympics, to a bronze medal podium finish in the 1974 Tehran Asian Games, and a qualification to the Moscow Olympics.
The astute coaches then combined the different strengths of the Malays, Chinese and Indians to assemble formidable and feared sides in Asia.
That truly, was the genuine Harimau Malaya with all its diverse stripes.
Malaysian hockey’s best claim to fame is the fourth-placed 1975 World Cup squad, which until today, 49 years later, is still the most successful team in its annals.
That team comprised Malays, Indians (including Punjabis), Chinese and Eurasians. This multiracial composition went well up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the 2002 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur.
That was also the time when the administrators were bolstered by strong hockey DNA.
While I am not suggesting that MHC president Subahan Kamal – a football man to the core – needs this DNA to be a good administrator, he will do a lot better if he surrounds himself with the best hockey minds.
To his credit, Subahan has been a good administrator, bringing stability, both financial and otherwise, to MHC. Unfortunately for him, that is not how he will be judged. It will be the success or failure of the national team that will ascertain his value.
Ask our current King, Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who ran Malaysian football as FA of Malaysia president.
Under his rule, and that of his late father Sultan Ahmad Shah and their competent general secretary, the late Paul Mony Samuel, FAM were the best-run national association in Malaysia, and even in Asean.
But when the final judgement came down, it was not their administrative skills that came up for assessment. What was on trial was their ability, or rather their inability, to produce teams that could return Malaysia to its former football glory.
Whether fairly or unfairly, Subahan is in that place right now, facing an uncompromising hockey fraternity baying for his blood and a major overhaul of the MHC.
To me, one of the greatest qualities of a sports leader is an ability to examine one’s self, to see where one has gone wrong, and reach out for assistance to those who could have answers to its afflictions.
In that respect, Sultan Ahmad and Al-Sultan Abdullah, stood out as personifications of humility, who could not only take hard criticisms on the chin but were also open to ideas for the advancement of the sport they governed.
Instead of being upset by our criticisms, they engaged even their harshest critics from the media for possible solutions.
Yes, as much as it may be hard to believe, the decisions of Sultan Ahmad and Al-Sultan Abdullah were always inclusive. FAM was never a one-man show under their governance.
And whether MHC cares to admit it or not, it is quite evident for all to see that Malaysian hockey is in dire need of resuscitation. And it is just as evident that this breath of new life is not going to come through the existing set-up and current mindsets.
While Subahan has brought financial and, to a point, some structural stability to MHC, he would need some astute hockey minds, for one, to inject new ideas to revitalise the interest and development of the sport in all areas of competition.
For, it is the quality of the domestic competitions and the national leagues that help shape the fortunes of the national team. Ideally, of course, we would like to see our best players plying their trade in the more highly competitive leagues of countries like Australia, Germany, Netherlands and India.
In football, Malaysia would have had some success in the ongoing Asian Cup if, like many others, we had players in the big European leagues. With the Malaysian Super League – super only in name – as its only hunting ground, Harimau Malaya were left starving in Doha.
Following an unflattering start to 2024, with failures on three big fronts – badminton, hockey and football – it is clear for all to see that Malaysian sport needs its best sports minds on board.
I firmly believe, and I hope Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim does too, that Malaysia needs to change the world’s negative perception of us.
Right now only success in sport at the world stage can make that happen.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.