Monday, November 16, 2009

A full time failure

Comment By Vijesh Rai
(NST Sports Editor)

WHAT next for Malaysian hockey?
Yesterday's defeat to New Zealand, no matter how we choose to see it, means Malaysia now have the sad record of having missed two consecutive World Cups and Olympics, which drives home hard the fact that we can no longer claim to be a world power.
This has been the case for some time now but, having played at the highest level several times, we always hoped that the players would be able to turn it around and regain lost pride in Invercargill, New Zealand.
But we knew, even when Tai Beng Hai's men beat China to qualify for the World Cup Qualifier final, that defeat was the most likely outcome for Malaysia against New Zealand and the team didn't disappoint.
Sure, the players fought hard and were mere minutes away from lining up alongside the cream of hockey in the New Delhi World Cup next February but, as much as the hardcore supporters choose to see the positives, it is the end result that matters which means the team failed.
Hockey isn't a sport which Malaysia has just taken up for it is part of the big three alongside badminton and football and the support it enjoys -- financial and otherwise -- is on par with the other two.
Millions are spent yearly on hockey and all the sport has to show in 2009 is the failure of the seniors to win a World Cup berth and a poor performance by the Juniors in their own World Cup.
Help, it would seem then, isn't going to be forthcoming from this year's Junior World Cup squad, something which the Malaysian Hockey Federation seems resigned to given the hope it has placed on the 2013 Project squad.
But this approach, and Malaysia's recent history has proven this several times over, is not going to get hockey, nor any other sport, out of the rut it is in.
Depending on just one group of players is never going to be enough no matter what MHF does, even if the squad is in full time training.
MHF president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah should be fully aware of this with his FA of Malaysia experience, where millions were spent on project teams with nothing much gained.
Only a handful, if there are even that, still take this approach for so competitive is sport today that it doesn't make sense for a national team to train full time and play only in friendly matches and invitational tournaments.
It is in domestic leagues, which are of high quality, where players hone their skills and fight for national team selection. There is no room for complacency, which sadly is the case for most Malaysian sports no thanks to this belief that once an athlete is in a national programme, it is extremely difficult to drop him or her.
This may have worked for Malaysia when the country first went big in sports after winning the bid to host the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games but that was 13 years ago and most, if not all, from that batch of athletes have departed the scene.
The full time training approach should have also ended with that batch of athletes but it didn't and hockey is a classic example of how the system has gone wrong.
Malaysia won silver in the 1998 Commonwealth Games, qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and hosted the 2002 World Cup but since then, it has been downhill -- we missed the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and the 2010 World Cup is now alongside the edition we failed to qualify for in 2006.
The next big target will be the London Olympics Qualifier but MHF doesn't take action now and improve its structure, widen the selection base and have quality leagues across the board, we can be sure that what happened in Invercargill yesterday will happen again with the only difference being the venue.