India's Len Aiyappa, 2nd from right, jumps up as he battles for the ball in the game against Pakistan during the 14th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2005. Nur Insafi have hired him for the Premier League on Dec 4.
MALAYSIA Hockey League stakeholders were all smiles in agreement to the new Premier League format which was discussed yesterday.
Among the exciting features of the Premier League is that teams will travel from state to state to play matches, and promote as well as encourage grassroots development, in a ‘dying sport’.
“The MHL needed a boost and I see this idea of playing matches in at least six states as an exciting idea to promote a sport which was once popular in schools, but is slowly dying in some states,” said Sapura team manager Abdullah Yunus.
There will be coaching clinics, as well as exhibition matches to attract the crowd to stadiums, and one match every Friday will be shown live on ESPN.
And the fact that the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) will foot the accommodation, travel and logistics bills at the venues took a great burden off team budgets.
A total of 44 matches, including two round quarter-finals and two round semi-finals have been planned for the Premier League.
Division One champions UiTM and runners-up Airod Armed Forces will join in during the quarter-finals stage.
“I believe the league will receive a big boost if run professionally, and it would also be a chance for hockey fans at states to watch their favourite players in action,” said Tenaga Nasional coach K. Rajan.
The five clubs which sent representatives to the meeting were Sapura, Tenaga, Nur Isafi, Maybank and Universiti Kuala Lumpur. Only Ernst and Young has opted out of the League.
Nur Insafi will make full use of no limit on foreign players to field 18 players from Pakistan and India. Former India national player Len Ayaippa, a drag flicker, will be on their payroll.
“We have no choice but to field 18 imports as there are no more good players left for us to choose from. Only four local players will be playing for us this season,” said Nur Insafi manager M. Thaitchana.
The league is slated to start on Dec 4, but if Malaysia qualify for the New Delhi World Cup the MHF have standby plans.
“If we qualify for the World Cup, a discussion will be held with the national team management and coaches and see if they will allow the players represent their clubs during weekends, and return to training on weekdays.
“The closing date for entries is Oct 14, and we will be happy if six to eight teams play in the Premier League,” said MHF secretary Sgt Hashim.