Monday, June 14, 2010

Elephants could be the surprise package

By Jugjet Singh

SOUTH Africa has been a hunting ground for fierce predators for millions of years, and when I went there in 2002 to report on the second Champions Challenge hockey tournament, the fear factor was no longer on the plains, but ingrained in the city.

The first sign to greet Malaysian journalists in the hotel room was frank and read: “Welcome to South Africa. And now that we are done with the pleasantries, here is the truth: Don’t bring anyone who you befriend into this room because if you are lucky you will be left with only your underwear when you wake up. And if you are unlucky, you will go home with AIDS.”
It sent alarm bells buzzing like the irritating vuvuzela, and after reading the morning paper which had three pages full of crime related stories, we constantly looked over our shoulders, initially, but then became bolder and did venture into Johannesburg and downtown Soweto.
During the free hunting days, the Big Five that were favourite safari were Lion, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Leopard and Black Rhinoceros.
But during the World Cup, the Big Five favourites seem to be Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Spain and England.
So when a group of journalists were having a conversation on the World Cup and eventually came to which team one supports, there was muted silence when I picked Ivory Coast over the Big Five.
I don’t expect the Elephants, as Ivory Coast are known as, to win the World Cup, but they should provide some ex citement and romance because all their players are based abroad, and will only be playing in their second World Cup.
The Elephants did not make an attempt to play at the world stage until 1974, and only qualified in 2006 but didn’t get past the first round.
And the fact that they qualified four years later, and have produced one of the best strikers from that continent, is testimony of their determination.
Hibernian, VB Stuttgart, Arsenal, Wigan Athletic, Manch ester City, Monaco, Galatasaray, Lille, Sevilla, Chelsea, Olympique Marseille ... Every Ivory Coast player in the World Cup today has a foreign club as his base and this is where their strength lies in.
The talent was honed back home, but they know that if they do not venture across their borders, they will not be able to earn a decent living, and more importantly, take their country to the World Cup for the second time.
The Elephants football team might not be as strong and ferocious as their animal Big Five but they should be able to give Portugal, Brazil and North Korea a headache in Group G.
South Africa never ceases to amaze visitors to its country so don’t be surprised if a team outside the Big Five lift the title, as you can’t rule out an Elephant stampede if they beat Portugal today.
On a parting note, among the many surprises that jolted Malaysian journalists in 2002, was the definition of Soweto.
When we visited Nelson Mandela’s matchbox house in Soweto, where he stayed during his mining days in 1946 and is now a family museum, we asked the caretaker which tribal language did the word Soweto come from, and what did it mean.
He laughed at us and said, “English my friend, English! It is in short for South Western Township.”

Hit them hard, says MHF

THE Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) views Kelantan’s attempt to cheat at the Malaysian Sports Schools (MSSM) Girls Under-12 hockey tournament as an identity fraud, and feels stern action should be taken against those respon sible.
On Saturday, The Kelantan Under-12 girls team had beaten Kuala Lumpur 4-1 in the MSSM finals, but were then stripped of the title when they were found to have registered an overage player with documents of another girl.
MHF vice-president Datuk Dr S.S. Cheema said even though it is a schools tournament, but it is still sanctioned by the MHF and stern action should be take against those responsible.
“The organisers did the right thing by giving KL the title even though Kelantan had won because identity fraud is a big crime.
“I feel there should be a follow up from the ministry (of Education) to get to the root of the matter because the player could not have done it on her own, and officials or teachers who condoned the act be punished,” said Dr Cheema.
Dr Cheema said such an act must be nipped in the bud: “On the MHF part, we can stop the said teacher(s) or official(s) from officiating at any other future tournaments.
“However I feel the Education Ministry must come down hard on those involved in this embarrassing episode to send a strong warning to others.” It was reliably learnt that after receiving the protest from KL, MSSM officials had contacted the real owner of the doc uments, and her father had confirmed that his daughter did not compete in the tournament, but was on holiday with him.
KL dominated the MSSM meet when their Under-12 boys beat Terengganu 2-1, while in their Under-18 boys beat Perak 3-0.
The only title that slipped from KL’s grip was in the Girls Under-18, which Kedah won 2-1.