Pic: The Malaysian Indian Sports and Cultural Foundation-Universal Fitness & Leisure (MISCF-UFL) team after playing against Old La Sallians Association of Klang (Olak) in preparation for the Junior Hockey League on March 31.
By Jugjet Singh
THERE is so much of hockey being played around the country that it's puzzling why Malaysia are still ranked 13th in the World.
Hockey is not only a sport, but its also a big money-making industry, from the millions needed to lay an artificial pitch to the equipment which has undergone tremendous change over the years.
A good hockey stick ranges from RM400 to RM1,500 -- one for the development players, the other for state and national players or those whose parents can afford it.
Goalkeepers equipment (cheapest RM3,000), balls, shin pads, mouth guards, artificial pitch shoes, socks, field bookings right up to the refreshments during the break all cost a bomb these days.
Not to mention the coaches salaries from the highest level to the grassroots -- all 1,500 certified coaches according to the last study done in 1997, after which no study was conducted for latest numbers.
But still, it has not stopped hockey from mushrooming around the country.
Take for exmple the Kuala Lumpur Hockey Stadium in Japan Pantai.
Yesterday, as usual, it was packed with hockey players of all standards and sizes.
The KLHA Under-16 squad started at 8am to train for the National Under-16 squad which will be held on March 18-26 at the same venue.
This was followed by a friendly match between Old La Sallians Association of Klang (Olak) with Malaysian Indian Sports and Cultural Foundation-Universal Fitness & Leisure (MISCF-UFL)
They were preparing for the Junior Hockey League which is slated to start on March 31.
But even before Olak and MISCF-UFL packed their bags, Convent Bukit Nanas girls walked onto the picth -- and it was blazing hot at 12 noon.
And later in the evening, there was 1Mas training followed by the Malaysia Hockey League Premier Division matches.
Hockey whole day, and almost every day at every artificial pitch around the country for the last five years but we're still 13th in the World.
So, its a real puzzle as there is plenty of action at the grassroots but still, the eight Premier Division teams struggle to find quality local players and need to hire foreign imports.
But the imports have not shown any signs of being better than the locals, expect for Jang Jong Hyung from South Korea, who has scored 19 goals for Terengganu Hockey Team to place them at the top of the table.
However, Malaysia have a super chance of moving up the rankings when they play in the World League Round Two match in Dhaka on March 4-12.
With the other teams in Dhaka being of mediocre standard, Malaysia should win gold again like they did in the World League Round Two in Singapore by whipping Poland 8-0 in the final.
And with the World Cup being a 16-team format, Malaysia are almost a sure bet to play in India in 2018 and improrve on their rankings.
But even if they don't qualify for the World Cup, hockey will still be played at a furious state at the grassroots and clubs and MHL as well as JHL, Razak Cup, Azlan Shah Cup, Sultan of Johor Cup, Alagendra Cup, Malaysia Games, Under-14, Under-16, 1Mas tournaments -- and the expensive equipments will still be purchased at a furious state for the next five years and counting.