Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy - " Has MHF gone astray on this tournament".

The tournament had its humble beginnings in 1983 in Kuala Lumpur with 4 teams participating including Australia, India and Pakistan. It may give an impression of a Southern hemisphere tournament but it is not so. The first 3 tournaments were held every 2 years and countries like Spain, Germany, and South Korea joined to make it a world class event. Indeed it was granted officially FIH recognition and is in the calendar of FIH.

After 1987, the tournament was missing from the hockey "radar" screen for 4 years and reappeared in 1991, having India, Pakistan, South Korea, New Zealand and USSR. Again there was a 3 years lapse before the 5th Sultan Shah Trophy tournament was held in Penang in 1994. Since then it has been an annual tournament except for 1997. The teams participating from Asia tend to be Pakistan, India, South Korea and times Japan, while from Europe, usually it is Germany, Holland, Spain and at times England. Australia is a regular and occasionally it is New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina or Canada. Without any doubt Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy has been a premier tournament in Asia and one of the few that is accorded a high tournament status by FIH.

The tournament has come a long way and has evolved with time into a regular annual feature of world international hockey. At least once a year Malaysia gets its fair share of publicity in world hockey arena for hosting this tournament. World class teams make it a point to come and participate, more so as the Malaysian team itself was around the peripherals of their class. As our hockey standards dipped and our national team's performances became dismal, the tournament slowly became more a training ground for breeding new players in some of the top teams. This time, the top teams seem to be avoiding this tournament i.e Australia, Germany, Spain and South Korea. They have given their reasons but is it a good enough reason for them to skip participating in this tournament.

MHF, in their usual "gungo" style always give the impression that they could get good teams for the tournament. They have even extended invitation to Ireland too but without much success. With the exception of Pakistan the rests of the teams are ranked from 11th and below. India , New Zealand, Egypt and Malaysia are the other participants.

This year, it would seem MHF as Organiser, has by default turned the tournament to a "2 rated" event. None of the top 7 teams are coming and the replacing teams are even lower rank than Malaysia. Therefore, it would seem that the glamour of the event is being loss and the worrying aspect is whether this would set the basis for future years. If so, would Sultan Azlan Shah tournament suffer the same fate as Frank Renee tournament in India. This tournament seem to have disappeared from the hockey "radar" completely.

Indeed the time has come that MHF re-evaluate the tournament and determine what they should be doing or not doing in order to attract the top teams for the tournament. If MHF can seek these answers, then it would make matters easier to address and re-engineer the approach in organising this tournament. Some of the reasons MHF must check out are:

  1. Timing of invitation - Are we giving the teams ample invitation time so as they can put it into their own national calender? This means we must extend invitations 2 years ahead, thereby giving every party to do the needful. Some may suggest that this would be difficult for MHF. In its current state of affairs, i tend to agree but if MHF can get a 2 year calendar moving, which is essentially "planning" (as oppose to its ad-hoc operations) particularly as DYMM Sultan of Perak's birthday is known and having His Majesty's early consent can easily pave the way.

  2. Malaysia's poor world ranking - Sometimes top teams do not want to play with mediocre teams as it does not serve much of a purpose. Even if they do, it is part of a build up to another major tournament or as exposure for some of their new young players. The top teams plan their entire training process months and years ahead and they therefore are careful not to simply participate in a tournament that may be classified as "no real competition" for them. Obviously, if we can move to around the 10th ranking in the world, the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament would again become an interesting playing ground for the top teams.
  3. Equally, there are rumours that the invitations were done in such a manner that some of the teams that come to participate are of lower ranking. This would give the national team a good chance of doing well in the tournament, thereby creating a image that all is well with Malaysian hockey.

  4. Allegations of match fixing - Apparently the allegations of match fixing relating to the Malaysian players arose from the last Sultan Azlan Shah tournament. Sometimes the top teams shy away from coming to countries where they believe nothing is being done on such allegations. The reason being, if there is any truth to the matter, they do not want to be tainted or be in an environment where their players may be tempted by certain elements. So, the best solution is not to participate. This where it is important that MHF settles the matter urgently and do not allow it to linger. It does more harm by avoiding to address it. Maybe, the allegations may all be false accusations but the point is it must be officially addressed.

  5. Failure in seeking FIH assistance - This tournament is an official FIH sanctioned tournament. Usually, international governing bodies are very helpful to their affiliates. Similarly, if sufficient time was given and FIH assistance was sourced, i am sure they would be more than willing to help in getting the top teams. They cannot force any nations but they have their persuasive nature. The most important point is, whether we have the right people in MHF communicating with the right people in FIH in the right "frequency" and language.

Malaysian hockey is slipping and as that happens, even classic premier tournament like Sultan Azlan Shah tournament is also paying the price. Lets us not become organisers of 2nd rated tournament because of our own doings. It is important that MHF has a high powered "special committee" whose task is to organise 2010 and 2011 Sultan Azlan Shah tournaments and they must start their work from this tournament. What is important, is for MHF also to address the issues that is confronting them.

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