Sunday, March 25, 2012

What's next Malaysian HC?

COMMENT By Vijesh Rai (left|)
(NST Sports Editor)

GOING by the silence since the 'Irish tragedy', it would seem that the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) hadn't expected the Olympic Qualifier to end the way it did for the national team.
Not only did Malaysia fail to make the Olympics, they couldn't even make the final of the Qualifier and one wonders which hurt MHC more.
Millions were spent preparing the squad but Tai Beng Hai's men 'emulated' their predecessors from the 2004 and '08 campaigns and will now have to watch the Olympics on television.
The question now is where does hockey go from here?
For sure, the national career of some players is over for MHC has no choice but to start rebuilding immediately for the 2014 World Cup, another tournament that Malaysia have not featured in since hosting the 2002 edition.
There are some who feel that the coaches must be "released" while others opine that MHC's big guns should also do the honourable thing and quit the national body.
One fan even said Malaysia should just forget about hockey -- all team sports for that matter -- as we are lagging so far behind that there is no hope of ever catching up, let alone regaining the lofty heights of once before.
The words may seem harsh to the MHC, especially as it was only about 18 months ago when the national team were lauded for winning silver in the Asian Games but this is the price that has to be paid for failure.
There are some who feel otherwise but the team failed and the onus is now on MHC to convince us that hockey can indeed fly the Malaysian flag high on the international arena.
The whole structure -- from the grassroots to the various national teams -- needs to be revamped and MHC is duty-bound to tell us how it is going to do so.
What it already knows -- after three failed Olympic campaigns -- is that full time training for the national squad doesn't work.
Prior to the Qualifier in Dublin, the national team were grouped together for extended periods of time, were sent on several playing tours but when it came to the crunch, they were found wanting on the competitive stage.
What is worrying is that the Project 2013 team, preparing for the Junior Asia Cup in May, are also in virtual full time training for a championship that doubles up as next year's Junior World Cup Qualifier.
This is an episode that has been repeated regularly over the last decade or so and with the senior team now without anything major to set their sights on for the next 12 months, the fear is the juniors could also join them on the sidelines.
Simply put, MHC has to find a different formula to ensure Malaysia are competitive enough to advance past Qualifiers or even win titles.
Locally, the highest quality competition the players have is the MHL and we know how competitive that is, so MHC has no choice but to set its sights abroad.
This is not a new suggestion but given the failure in Dublin, MHC is left with no other choice.
The silence has been deafening since last Saturday's failure in Dublin and one can only hope that this is because MHC is putting great thought into how hockey is going to rise again.
The real fear, though, is that it is waiting for the storm to subside and for Malaysians to forget that hockey will not, for the third consecutive time, feature in the Olympics.
That would indeed be a tragedy.