KUALA LUMPUR: Sabah Hockey Association (SHA) secretary Avtar Singh has to take out his begging bowl every time he wants to send teams to age-group and Junior Hockey League (JHL) tournaments in Peninsular Malaysia.
For him, the begging with sponsors and friends has paid off as after a short span, his players have started to impress.
Sabah boys and girls used to be punching bags for their rivals five years ago but after regularly competing in the National Under-14, Under-16 and the JHL, their boys finished fourth and the girls got a silver medal in the Under-16 last year.
This year, the Sabah boys held Pahang 1-1, Kelantan 1-1 and only lost to Kuala Lumpur 1-0 but crashed out of the medal rounds.
Ther girls qualified for the medal rounds by beating Sarawak 3-0, drawing 1-1 with Penang and losing 4-1 to Malacca.
"It's not easy as air fare, lodging, food, and allowances come up to RM80,000 for the two Under-16 teams while it’s a whopping RM200,000 for the two teams in the JHL.
"But Sabah HA know that our players can only improve if they play against stronger teams regularly and so it was decided that whatever the costs, we need to bear it.
"Our biggest supporters are MSN (Majlis Sukan Negeri) Sabah who gave RM43,000 to the Under-16 team alone this year.
"For the balance, I had to approach sponsors as well as friends 'with a begging bowl.'
"But seeing our boys and girls progress well in a short span has been a super reward, and I don't find begging a chore," said Avtar.
Sarawak are the other HA who have to bear high costs to field their players, and they, too, have shown marked improvement.
On Wednesday, Sarawak boys held Negri Sembilan to a 2-2 draw, showing a marked improvement. Last year Negri Sembilan ended sixth, while Sarawak were at the bottom 14th position.
The two state HAs should be emulated by those who feel that it is too cumbersome to look for sponsors to nurture home talent, who in the long run, will be an asset to the nation.
Sports Journalist with the New Straits Times since 1994.
My main beat is field hockey, so this blog will have stories that I have written for the NST, as well as hockey news from around the globe. There will be regular updates. I was also the Secretary General of the National Press Club, Malaysia for three terms (six years).