Monday, January 25, 2010

Forget a touring league

COMMENT by Jugjet Singh

THE idea was novel, and expensive to execute, so the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) deserve a pat for pulling it thought.
The Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) Premier Division will enter the knock-out stages this weekend, but many feel the idea should be knocked out in the next season, as it has failed in many areas.
First of all, the stadia in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Baru and Malacca were empty of fans, and the smattering of people that bothered to attend were more family and friends of the hockey players.
The Tun Razak Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, a venue which used to be filled to the brim when MHL matches were played a decade ago, only saw a handful of fans, while the rest were players, officials and not to forget the ball-boys.
Penang failed to bring in the crowd, even though they had a home side in Nur Insafi, and the Taman Daya Stadium in Johor Baru as well as the Bukit Serindit Stadium in Malacca will tell you a similar tale if they could talk.
So next season, MHF might a well scrape the expensive idea which involves travelling and staying in hotels, as five out of the six teams are based in the Klang Valley, and it is highly unlikely that another state-based club can afford to join in.
The reason is not because Malaysians do not like to watch hockey anymore, but because the gap among teams is so huge, that the League champion Kuala Lumpur Hockey Club should have been given the trophy and RM30,000 cash right after they submitted their team list.
The fact that 5 million viewers tuned in to watch Malaysia play against New Zealand in the World Cup Qualifier in Invercargill, indicates the fan base is still there, but they want quality matches and not run-of-the mill lop-sided tour naments.
There are not enough hockey players to go around, and former stars are still highly in demand even though their production level has dropped with the increase in their waist- line.
Only UniKl-Ibil took a chance with a young side, but it looks like many of their players might be pinched by the richer clubs, and next season they will again be doing development work.
Sponsors Tenaga Nasional made it possible with a huge contribution, but it is time more money be used for de velopment, than staging tournaments.
A discussion was held recently between the big guns of the National Sports Council and the MHF, and the whispers in the corridors say that there is still hope in the long run if the proposals become a reality.
The NSC are looking at a Primary Sports School in Pahang where Standard One pupil will be exposed to training in multiple sports, and a scientific evaluation will be made as they grow up and only then, will they be made to specialise in sports which suit their physique.
And the NSC have promised to be on the lookout for budding hockey players.
Then there are plans to send a entire age-group hockey teams to Europe for more than a month to play and train, and this will be made possible by cementing affiliation with clubs in Netherlands and Germany who will house and train the boys at minimal cost.
In the words of one NSC official: “There will be more quality training time, and less time to be tourists as is the norm right now.”
The whispers are strong and confident that both the ideas will take off next year and in the long run, tournaments like the MHL will not have to rely on old horses or low-quality foreign players, while Malaysia will also be in a better position on the International Hockey Federation standings in a decade.