Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Coaches always get the chop for team's poor performance." - Is that fair?

The President of MHF has more or less determined the fate of the coaches of the senior national team by providing an ultimatum. The finale for them would be the 2010 World Cup qualifier, to be held in November 2009. If Malaysia qualifies, the coaches may be retained but if they fare badly it is "sayonara".

The TM has taken an unusual position on the matter especially as the 2 coaches had fulfilled their original target i e being in the top 4 at the Asia Cup. Indeed they were even one better by being runners up in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament. Rightfully they had delivered their initial deliverable and therefore MHF should have confirmed them to a permanent arrangement. Fortunately or unfortunately this did not happen and the national team's disastrous performance at Dublin's Champion Challenge II and their lacklustre tour to Australia & New Zealand has not helped the coaches.

The question is: "How do you expect the coaches to perform"? From the onset the coaches had to face disciplinary issues with players from heavy alcohol consumption to late nights or wee hours partying to mutiny against the coaches. Added to this are the "clandestine" meetings by the national team manager with the players in the absence of the coaches. Part of this also lies with the special relationship most of the players have with the manager, relating to club hockey where he is their paymaster. This has created a delicate situation whereby the coaches had to always walk on a "tight rope" to maintain the balance, without having to create a chaotic scenario.

A further twist comes into the equation, where sources indicate that the Deputy President and a senior NSC official requested that any comments or written submission by the coaches must be directed only through the team manager. Sources highlight that such a position was not the decision of the MHF Management Committee nor the Team Management Committee. So why all the big fuss by these 2 people? Was there a conspiracy to vet, censor and silent the views of the coaches?

It would seem that the coaches had their "hands tied". They did not have the freedom to properly undertake their task without fear or favour. Sources indicate that the coaches had produced comprehensive reports of the team and other relevant issues but nobody in MHF spent the time reading or discussing matters with the coach. The coaches became lonely and found that there was no one who was prepared to listen to them. What mattered to everyone was only the results i e a Machiavellian approach - "the end justifies the means".

As pressure is exerted on the coaches, MHF has to realise the fundamentals of the game relates to the players. The coach is there to guide the team with tactics, assist with game fitness, game temperament and most of all to motivate them. All these is only possible if the players have the passion to don the national colours both as a patriotic and national duty, while earning their salaries.

We have to move away from the "denial" state and accept the fact that the current crop of players cannot sustain our position in the international arena. Therefore the idea of 2010 World Cup qualifier must be seen from a different perspective. We are paying the price for the lack of developing talents over the past few years. It has finally caught up with us and sadly we are doing nothing to rectify the situation.

We have not embedded the principles of excellence and therefore everything we produce tend to be half baked or half bred sportsmen. We turn them overnight into "superstars" and this gets to their heads and they think they are indispensable. They start pulling the strings and officials fall "head over heels" crying for their services. They believe that nothing can touch them for all their ill discipline acts. The matter gets compounded with bias sentiments and favouritism permitting the aspect of meritocracy to just become a figment of imagination of the officials. All these add in making lesser quality players to think they are great "stars".

Reality hits them when they flop with international teams but by then the damage is done to Malaysian hockey. While some may recognise the truth, the players still do not make amends as they continue to be pampered by the officials and guaranteed their salary as the national team. On top of this most of these players get another handsome salary from the club and therefore there is no real hunger to perform.

End of the day with this backdrop: "Should the coaches be the fall guys"? Maybe it is the prevailing system in MHF that is failing to produce the players for the senior national coaches to work upon. Great philosophers had stated: "Look inside, not outside". Maybe that is the soul searching MHF has to undertake, for even if they had the world's best coaches, with the current players we cannot produce the results. This is probably the reason why we are unable to get any foreign coach for the Malaysian team, as they do not want to dent their own reputation.

The 102 Group had recommended to forget the World Cup qualifiers as a target. They felt it was not realistic. They recommended developing a team for the 2012 Olympics and its qualifiers. Again nobody in MHF wants to listen. They just waste the resources on lost causes rather than investing for the future. To date MHF does not have a clue what to do for 2012. Why? There is no planning strategy which would have encompassed a master plan and the action strategy to achieve the targets.

Until MHF reorganises itself with the right people undertaking the appropriate strategy and actions, we might as well accept that Malaysia appearing in the World Cup or Olympics in the future shall only remain a dream. Nothing more than that. Believe it !!!!!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The "hockey turf war" in Malaysia.

Today there are about 30 hockey turf grounds in Malaysia and the turfs need replacement every 3 to 4 years depending on how well they are maintained. The average cost of replacement varies from RM$1.2m to RM$2.0m, depending on extent of work. Therefore the turf business every 3 years or thereabouts generates RM$36.0m to RM$60.0m. This figure excludes any new hockey grounds that are being built.

Last year saw Johor having 2 new pitches being laid in preparation of the Junior World Cup 2009, while Malacca also had undertaken a replacement for 1 pitch and added a new 2nd pitch to fulfill international requirements.

Interesting gossips have evolved from Johor and Malacca of the business nature of the contracts that seem to have left an unsavory "after taste" with the suppliers or their agents. The rumours seem to reflect the hazardous journeys the suppliers or agents have to undertake to secure the contract. The euphoria of winning and securing the contact seem to be short lived, especially when the work is completed, for they do not get paid. At least this is the version of story that is floating around the hockey circles.

Much talked is about Johor and the troubled agent, who has to make regular trips from "Down Under" to literally beg for the settlement of amounts due to him. Mind you this is even after the Junior World Cup tournament is over. This poor chap, a former Malaysian hockey international, had apparently extended his goodwill and hospitality when the Malaysian hockey team visited Australia in early 2008. Feeling comfortable, thereupon it is told that he worked closely with certain personalities to secure the contract. The good side, he got the deal but the bad side he is still not paid, at least based on market talk in the beginning of August 2009.

Similar story seems to emerge from Malacca hockey ground too. Here, the supplier is a known person in the turf business and in the past seems to have the major slice of the Malaysia hockey turf market. His outfit was responsible for the work in Malacca and on completion he was expecting the payments but apparently it was unusually delayed. Various communications including sms ( i am unable to verify this part of the story) seem to indicate certain condition precedents need to be fulfilled to finalise the matter. It is alleged that the source from which such communication had arisen seem to point towards another known figure in Malaysian hockey.

While payments are an issue with Johor and Malacca hockey grounds, there is something that is brewing at Pantai hockey ground ie the Ministry of Education's pitch. The pitch had been in a deplorable state for some time and there had been exercises to replace it but it never materialised. This time there is a serious intent and a tender has been floated for the works at the pitch. There seems to be keen interest among various suppliers and some form of competitive pricing is expected.

The story here takes an interesting flavour as the outfit who had the biggest slice of the turf market lost one of their agency rights for a particular kind of turf. The new benefactor of that turf has roped in a new partner, who is a very renowned name in Malaysian sports and had been in world hockey. A young and highly likeable person, he takes his job professionally. His reputation usually precedes him, which has become his great asset. and as such there are people who are always ready to be helpful to him.

This scenario has created not only a competitive outlook but also an envious one. The "battle" is on to see who secures this deal. There has been a bit of "mud slinging" but the newcomer to the turf business remains cool and focused to secure the deal ie a "gentleman of business".

The "battle" shall be further escalated when 2 other hockey grounds need their turf to be replaced. The "Jewel of the Crown" is Bukit Jalil's main hockey stadium and the other being UMIT's ground. Both of these are going to set parties to bid against one another and the question is what strategy are they going to adopt. This probably shall determine how clean or dirty the turf business is going to be.

Whoever takes these 3 hockey grounds would surely be securing a good part of this year's and probably next year's turf business. Therefore it would not be unusual to see the "battle lines"
being drawn, so long it does not degenerate to personal and unsavory business tactics.

All in all it would seem nothing is as simple as it meets the eyes. It is made complicated because of greed that encourages unscrupulous ways. These are the elements that permit corners to be cut and as a result everything ends badly ie short of quality. Probably that is the price we pay when we forego good governance.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hockey - "Time has changed things and we need to adopt strategically to keep in pace."

Traditionally the schools had been the breeding ground for talents. There were sets of teachers from the late Ho Koh Chye, R Yogeswaran, K Machap, Vincent Fernandez, Brian Foenander, Noel D'Oliveiro, the late N Valupillay, V Sivapathasundram, Teja Singh, S Kesavan, P Poonenderajah, Chakaravathy, Rajakulasingam, Leong Hor Cheng, P Sambanthan and many others who toiled in the daily sun and at times in the rain to create breeds of players who were proud to don their school colours. This permitted a culture to blossom that permeated into them ie the ultimate pride - to play for the nation.

It was not the teachers alone per se but there were others in smaller numbers who did the very thing these teachers were doing. Namely people like Lawerence Van Huizen, William Fedelis, Michael Yan, the late Sheikh Ali, Titus Havelock, the late Abdul Hamid Aroop , V A Raja Naidu and some others like them who invested years and years of their time with the students. All these people did it for the love of the game and the schools they supported. This itself developed the sense of loyalty and pride, which became the fundamental source of inspiration for the players of yesterdays.

Today such dedicated people are lacking. The numbers are not there although the likes of Roslan Mohamad, Leo Vincey, Mokhtar Baharudin, K Sunderasen and a few others in the mode of Johnson Fernandez plus Vivekananda, all of whom seem to have the dedication to continue the struggle to produce the talents. They are not widespread and therefore the materials produced are limited, thereby restricting the aspect of choice both in terms of quantity and quality.

Essentially, with time things have changed. The modern distractions like Internet, channel television, shopping malls plus the quest to achieve academic performance combined with hours of tuition, all help to keep students away from the playing fields. The "old days" of expecting the young kids to come in numbers have drastically reduced, more so in urban areas. The out of town and rural areas still act as a fairly good breeding ground for discovering talents. Even then the "fall out" rate to succeed is high and therefore the ultimate numbers get reduced limiting the numbers in talents.

The key question is whether we can continue the usual way to "fertilise" the schools to become the breeding ground for our future talents or do we have to approach the whole issue in a different way? Maybe it is not about numbers, rather spending the time in creating sufficient quality players. Maybe schools should be a place for kids to enjoy sports and learn the idea of keeping fit. Maybe it is after the age of 16 or 17 they should be allowed to pick the game they are ideally suited for, thereby committing to become full time sports persons. Maybe this could provide one of the impetus for the growth of the sports industry.

Yes! there are a number of questions and a number of answers that need to be found. One thing is for sure, we cannot continue in our traditional way as things have significantly changed. We have to move with time, technology and people's aspirations. Lets put our efforts and resources into strategically planned programmes recognising the prevailing conditions and how best to extract the optimum results, thereby paving the way to develop world class players.

It can be done but it needs the WILL, the RIGHT PEOPLE with the INTELLIGENCE to pursue the present for the future.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Expert believes score margin of 11-3 in Malaysia's defeat is not unusual considering the rankings.

Jaap Suyk, the person behind and currently given the opportunity as coach of KL Razak Cup squad, seems to feel score margins in a game must be seen based on the rankings of the nations.

Jaap believes the way hockey is played today, margins of 3 or 4 goals between the top teams in the world has become a common feature. He takes this view based on the last 10 years of statistics. I presume when he means the top teams, i take it as the nations ranked in the top 10.

Jaap, takes a position that the game between Australia and Malaysia is literally between a team in the top 4 against a nation ranked 16th. Therefore losing 11-3 ie a 8 goal margin is not unusual in comparison. Initially, i found it difficult to accept that rationale but slowly as i sat and pondered i realise how right Jaap was.

The key point is we have to accept that we are ranked 16th and we have been sliding downwards as the years have gone by. Therefore when we are playing with a team like Australia, there is no doubts in skills and tactics we cannot match them. Thrashing would be the order of the game and if we can minimise the goal margins or even pull off the spectacular by beating them, we must have done well. Probably, i think that is what Jaap must have been attempting to put the message across to me.

It is probably that we are in the state of "denial" ie Malaysian hockey standards have dropped drastically that we are no more a contender for any titles even at Asian level. The last Asian Games where we were placed 6th should have opened our eyes, yet we seem not to realise "the writing on the wall". Somehow, we are always missing the very basic why we are not performing. Part of the reason maybe the dichotomies that exists in the control of hockey in Malaysia from running of MHF, appointment of coaches & team managers, development programmes, players "power", lackadaisical attitude & role of affiliates, to the inefficiencies in the administration and the lack of a vision combining with a carefully crafted master plan.

So, in summary we should not expect anything out of the ordinary when we are ranked 16th in the world. The change must start from MHF before we see results at the field.