COMMENT By Jugjet Singh
ONE would expect hockey to be the main topic when a group of coaches, managers, officials and ardent fans met recently over a few drinks.
Initially, the conversation did centre around hockey, par ticularly the Malaysia Hockey League semi-finals, but one official cut short the animated discussion and said we were wasting our time flogging a dead horse.
There was silence for a moment, and the discussion turned to politics, but after a few minutes, it came back to hockey, naturally.
And it flew in every direction, but particularly interesting read for the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) top-brass would be how certain young and talented players, dedicated coaches and officials are being slowly, but systematically culled from the sport.
One example, said a member of the round-table ad-hock panel, was when a player who was named as the Most Promising player in a world class tournament in 2005, and then turned out to be No 1 when a fitness test was conducted, was selected for an important assignment, but he was sidelined and warmed the bench most of the time.
Just because he was not liked by a certain person.
Then there was another player, also the best in his position, was kept in the shades during the Asia Cup in Kuantan where Malaysia finished fourth, and South Korea qualified for the New Delhi World Cup.
Again, it was because of personal dislike.
Malaysia received a second chance in the New Zealand World Cup Qualifiers, and even made it to the final against the hosts, but certain players were again sidelined and even though Malaysia took the lead, they went on to lose the New Delhi ticket 2-1 to the Kiwis.
This time, racism crept into the picture.
And this problem has now crept into the club structure, and the learned round table panel, who have their ears next to the players mouths most of the time, confirmed that one club might suffer an exodus next season, as players feel they will be appreciated more elsewhere, and given more playing time.
The culling, they said, was being done by certain coaches and officials, so the MHF council must be careful this group does not get their way when MHF endorse coaches named by their coaching committee last week.
The coaching committee named Tai Beng Hai and Stephen van Huizen for the senior side, K. Rajan, K. Dharmaraj and Rashid Maidin for the Junior World Cup squad, and S. Prakash and S. Valappan for the under-16 outfit.
These names will reach the management committee on Wednesday and then the council for endorsement, but already, some state officials are said to have started a lobby to include other names, and delete some that were rec ommended by the coaching committee.
Needless to say, the coaching committee has been a rubber-stamp when it came to naming coaches for decades, but it was learnt, at the highly charged discussion, that this time is will be different.
The committee voted on certain coaches when there was disagreement, and came up with the best available in the country, and said they will stand by their decision no matter what happened.
For a chance, there seem to be some change in attitude among those who have been taken for granted for far too long, and it looks like if the right coaches are placed at the right spots, the victimising of players will also become a thing of the past.
At this stage, it was again suggested that the topic of discussion be changed to something less depressing, and again there was silence for a few minutes.
But having hockey instead of blood in their veins, the agenda again shifted and in parting, one observer said he hoped when the foreign coach is finally appointed to oversee the senior side, he will have the final say in selecting and naming the best in the country, and meddling officials are not allowed to muscle in their favourite players.
Then, only then, will there be a winning change.