Monday, June 28, 2010

Dilemma in Malaysian Sports - Part 1 "Old versus Modern times"

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, when resources for sports were tough to come by, Malaysian sports were doing extremely well particularly in football, hockey, badminton and athletics and in some ways cycling. During this period the officials of the various National Sports Associations (NSA) and sometimes even the players had to solicit for support in order to participate in the various games. Nothing came easy as the players had to maintain a job to sustain themselves as salary and training allowances were not a norm in those days. Officials had to be creative to turn to philanthropists and supporters with revenuer generating ideas to ensure that their sports still kept flying the national colours. In short nothing came the easy way.

The struggles of the past only meant that the Government in its infinite wisdom for the interest of further developing sports felt it appropriate to put in the much needed resources. Today with National Sports Council (NSC), players salaries, training allowances to NSAs staff salaries to that of coaches and their assistants to full board & lodging culminating with overseas tours are all borne by Government. NSC has stretched their involvement not only subsidising costs of organising sporting events but also actively involved in development for the next generation of sportspersons. This is further complimented by National Sports Institute (NSI) who take into account the medical, fitness, nutritional aspects to sports science, and information technology. In a nutshell the Government has provided a comprehensive package to the Malaysian sporting fraternity and their sole job is to train and perform to achieve the desired results. In fact the Government has taken it another step further by providing various incentives for winning medals and some have life span coverage. Again, in short in today's environment everything is made so much easier for Malaysian sportspersons and their NSAs.

The popular maxim of " no pain no gain" seems to have come to haunt Malaysia's sporting success. When life was extremely tough for our sports officials and our sportspersons in the 50s, 60s & 70s, it would seem to have been the glorious era of Malaysian sports. Malaysian football qualified for 2 Olympics ie 1972 with Datuk M Chandran and 1980 with Datuk Soh Chin Aun while neither South Korea nor Japan were our nemesis then. In badminton we were regularly crowning the All England titles and monopolising the European circuit. We were always looking good at the Thomas Cup. In hockey, since 1956 we were at the Olympics and until the early 80s at the World Cup. At athletics Tan Sri Dr Jega, Rajamani, Nashatar Singh, Subramaniam, Asir Victor and Ishtiaq Mobarak kept the golds coming. Ask these people how difficult it was to work or study and train plus find the resources to go for competition. They did not have NSC or NSI or its equivalent. They had the discipline. the dedication and determination to succeed because of their passion and, above all, the love of the nation. It was a painful yet rewarding process but they knew it was all about sacrifice for the country. The pain of sports officials and sportspersons was what brought the gains for the country. The rewards they probably got was an official dinner and maybe an engraved gift which, more often than not, was a watch.

Today with NSC, NSI and the various corporate sponsorships, Malaysian sports is not giving the sort of "returns" for the investments being put in. Life is made so simple and indeed there is not much of stress or painful process for the sports officials or the sportspersons. Their job is made that much easier and yet the desirable results are not forthcoming. Other than having world champions in men's badminton and ladies' squash with some success in lawn bowl and in cycling, we have not at all fared well. In football we are well into the 140 arena in world ranking while in hockey we are failing to qualify for the Olympics and World Cup. With badminton there is too much of "hot and cold" talk that we are falling victims to teams that we had thrashed in the past. Athletics has become history. Maybe because there is no pain and such the gains are difficult to come by. If they do, the sportspersons are lavished with titles and loads of goodies from monies, land and sometimes even houses.

With so much going, one wonders why there is no avalanche of success. Does our society lack the hunger to succeed or is it that our system of breeding our sportsperson is wrong? Maybe there is too much of interference by NSC and NSI that our NSAs have totally surrendered their rights to administer their sports. Something that is difficult to comprehend because NSC and NSI are there to uplift the sports and they are an envy of many foreign teams. They generally fill the vacuum that the NSAs usually overlook or does not take the trouble to cater for,and that is in development ie the future generation. If so, why is this not paying off? Maybe as Malaysians we have got it wrong because we do not appreciate and understand the concept of "excellence" the benchmark for success. Something we should start to ponder about and then start the needful process of making the changes.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Asian hockey - Symptoms reflecting the possibility of the ultimate demise of the game in the region.

For decades Asians were the masters of the game of field hockey. From the 80s onwards with the change of rules and the introduction of artificial turf, the mastery skills of the game were overtaken by the sheer aspect of the predictable surface thereby allowing speed with hit & run tactics as the core ingredients of the game. Thereon the game evolved providing the "Caucasian" nations, whose players have the physique to have an added advantage, to take control of the game. Without doubt sports science, bio-medicine and information technology took the game to a different dimension.

All these were possible because the world body in hockey and the respective committees had and is being dominated by representatives from such nations and the shift in thinking has followed suit. Obviously the long term repercussions of such decisions are coming to fruition nearly 30 to 40 years later. This is something nobody could have easily foreseen except if the poorer countries mainly in Asia and Africa had properly understood the "economics" of moving to artificial turf, then they may have had extremely strong reservations from a financial standpoint, which itself may become the "nail" to seal the "coffin" for the demise of the game in the regions.

Well ! that is all in the past and it is a useless exercise to "cry over spilt milk". Therefore lets come straight to "present" time and it would seem that slowly Asian countries have departed from their mastery skills to adopt the styles of their counterparts from the "Caucasian" nations. Unfortunately these nations with time also allowed the game to evolve and of late adopted the skills of dribbling, a talent which probably 40 years ago was the domain of the Asians. As for the Asians while we adopted something "foreign" to us, we never evolved with it rather stagnated and sometimes are a good 4 to 8 years behind the modern hockey progression.

The other major hurdle that seems to be faced by Asian hockey nations is what i refer to as the "catch -up syndrome". The rules of hockey when changed, the first to adopt to these in its full force are the "Caucasian" nations. There is nothing wrong with it but the point being made here is that they are sufficiently represented and therefore have the numbers to sway the decisions. More importantly they have made it a mission to adopt the changes without hesitation as they have the resources. The Asian countries tend to "dilly dally" and usually do not have the resources to implement changes. They wait for their richer counterparts to go through the trial and tribulations of the changes and then adopt it. By which time these nations are far ahead and have distinct advantage while the Asian countries are behind with these changes. When they learn to master it, the rules change again thereby giving the richer nations another advantage. These effectively means Asia is always on the "catch-up" mode. Therefore how can Asian countries be on top of the "hockey pyramid"

We cannot blame the "Caucasian" nations as they are doing things the proper way. There is no "hanky panky" except it really shows a distinct trend that Asian hockey nations are basically "followers". They do not seem to have the right numbers nor a clarion voice. This in a way shows the weakness of Asian nations in their commitment to better themselves in the game.

The symptomatic decline in Asian hockey is seen in the events organised by Asian Hockey Federation (AHF). Events like;

1.Asian Champions Nations tournament in April 2010 was cancelled when Pakistan and South Korea pulled out in the 11th hour.

2. Asian Champions Club tournament in June 2010 saw only 3 national champion clubs represented. There were notable absences of teams from India, South Korea, Japan and China which are ranked in the top 15 in the world.

3. Asian Indoor tournament seem also to be poorly represented.

I could list a few more but it will only go to show the pathetic face of Asian hockey. Obviously people would like to point the fingers at AHF but the reality is the national affiliates themselves who are not doing their bit for hockey in their own country. I am not saying AHF is blameless but rather AHF is only as good if the national affiliates are supportive of it.

The "writing is on the wall" that the way hockey is heading in a few decades to come it maybe an "endangered game" in Asia and young kids may have to go to Sports Museum to know about the game. The World authorities in hockey has to take cognisance the shift in world economic centres with the potential of India and China including its mammoth population. If they do not do something for hockey in Asia, hockey may be missing a major size of the world's population for its TV rights and sponsorship. Football has seen it and so as cricket and F1 Racing. I hope world hockey get to grip of it and get Asia to move in the right direction by creating world champions through the process of establishing Development Centres like football and cricket has done culminating with accessibility to the fields and equipments. If not lets might as well start writing the "obituary" for hockey in Asia.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vasagam's son Dr Mani Jegathesan was bestowed the honour of "Tan Sri" by HM The King.

In the "good old days" when television, shopping malls, and information technology were not part of one's life, there were ample playing fields and spaces within the vicinity of the Government living quarters, where sporting activities in the evenings was the main event until the street lights came to illuminate the twilight before sunset. Parents, Headmasters, teachers and elder siblings tended to play a major role encouraging young kids to engage themselves in sporting activities. The idea that the mind developed through physical exercise was the prevalent belief in that era and there were no sound arguments to dispute the fact.

These areas became prime centres for sportspersons to flourish with their talents and history would document notable names like the Shepherdsons, Ratnams, Rajaratnam sisters, Van Huizen brothers, the Meahs, Sheikh Ali brothers, Choe brothers, Chua brothers, Thillainathan brothers, Dass brothers and many others. The most famous of them was the Vasagam family.

N M Vasagam, a government servant and a 440yd champion runner in the 1920s, was blessed with 4 boys who were either national athletes or sports administrators. Vasagam himself was founder Secretary of Malaya Amateur Athletic Union and the Malaya Olympic Council in 1955.

With such a pedigree Vasgam's offsprings were "a chip off the old block". The eldest boy M Veerasingam became the Secretary of Brunei Amateur Athletic Association, while the 2nd son M Balakrishnan participated in the 1954 Asian Games, while the 3rd,M Harichandra was a 880yd champion. Indeed Harichandra till today can do the distance in sufficiently good time and is actively engaged with Veterans Athletics in Singapore.

The most famous of the Vasagam sons is the 4th boy and he is no other than the one and only Mani Jegathesan. This lad has captivated the world from his sporting era to his medical career and finally to sports administration.

Popularly known as Jega, he was born in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar in 1943. He received his early education in the popular Batu Road School and thereafter at Victoria Institution (VI) and finally at Anglo Chinese School (ACS) in Singapore. He went on for tertiary education to University of Singapore and graduated in Medicine in 1967.

While at ACS, in 1960 at the tender age of 16, Jega represented Malaya at the Rome Olympic. This was the 1st of the 3 Olympics and 2 Asian Games over the next 8 years that he would represent the country as an athlete. Jega not only brought the medals but also broke records that still remain unbroken till today. In all this he was nicknamed as the "Flying Doctor" and the"Fastest man in Asia".

His curriculum vitae for athletics is voluminous particularly his achievements. This has become the hallmark of Jega as he enters other fields not necessary in sports alone. This is a person who has embodied the concept of excellence early in his life thereby having the passion of discipline and determination to strive for desired results. He is undoubtedly a "gifted and blessed" personality.

In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Jega clocked 20.9 secs for the 200 metres at the semi-final, which itself was a rare distinction for a Malaysian. He repeated this in the 1968 Mexico Olympic. It was in the same event in 1962 Jakarta Asian Games that Jega captured the gold for Malaysia.

Participating at any Olympic for any sportsperson is a pinnacle of a sporting career and it was no exception for Jega. However it was the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok that saw the "Golden Harvest" of gold medals by Malaysian athletes. Having colleagues like Nashatar Singh, M Rajamani, Subramaniam, Istiaq Mobarak, Asir Victor, M Rajalingam, Karu Selvaratnam and the likes of others only ensured Jega made a significant contribution to the harvest Jega hauled 3 golds for the 100metres, 200metres and for the 4 by 100metres. It is here he was embraced with the title of "Asia's Fastest Man".

Jega's name in Malaysia's athletic annals is so well engraved because some of his records still remain unbroken. His 200metres at 20.9secs and his 400metres at 46.3secs still stands after over 4 decades. His record for 100metres at 10.4 secs stood for nearly 30 years before it was shattered.

Athletes of those days did not have the luxury of the support of the current National Sports Council (NSC) which was not in existent then. Rather they had to slog based purely on the goodwill and encouragement of parents, teachers, friends and dedicated officials. Resources were difficult to come by, so that in itself provided the impetuses to perform for the sake of the generous support stretched out by well wishers. The thought of not wanting to let them down itself became a motivation to perform. It was quite a different world for athletes then.

Jega's extraordinary ability in athletics must be seen in the light of his educational pursuits. He was able to combine both which i must say was not quite unknown those days, although maybe doing medicine at University itself maybe an unusual feat. Jega must be portrayed as an example to our young kids as a person who was able to "grind" his way through studies and sports with the necessay distinctions. Maybe Jega himself may want to let our current sports administrators know what is there in his DNA that has made him such a remarkable person in sports and education. This may provide the necessary uplift for our current sportsperson.

While in University of Singapore from 1962 to 1967 doing his MBBS ie Medicine, Jega was already the "Fastest man in Asia". He was National Sportsman of the Year for 1966 as a University student and again in 1968 when he was a qualified Doctor. It would seem Dr Jega had the canny capability of achieving results in sports and education. To many it would be a figment of imagination but for Jega the term "impossible" is probably not in his vocabulary.

His qualification as a doctor also saw Dr Jega retiring from athletics after the Mexico Olympic. In 1967 he joined the Ministry of Health and in 1969 undertook a postgraduate qualification at Mahidol University in Bangkok. After achieving another postgraduate qualification DCP(London) in 1971, Dr Jega was appointed as Head of Bacteriology at the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) and held the position for 14 years till 1985. While at IMR he obtained his Fellowship in Pathology ie FRCPath(UK) in 1984 and in1985 he was posted as the Head of Laboratory Services General Hospital Kuala Lumpur (GHKL). 3 years later in 1988 he was appointed as Director of IMR, a post he held till 1994. It is in GHKL and IMR that he conducted extensive research particularly on infectious diseases & medical microbiology, and also produced more than 100 publications.

It is probably his microscopic outlook that ensured he became the Deputy Director General (Research & Technical Support) of the Ministry of Health for 4 years until his retirement in 1998. it must be said that in his working life Dr Jega was nationally and internationally known. Above all he was also linked to numerous organisations sitting in various capacities in a number of the Committees. Most of these were connected to World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNDP.

In the world of academia, Dr Jega had to grace it with his "Midas" touch. He is the Adjunct Professor in University Putra Malaysia for Medicine and similarly too for the Sports Centre at University Malaya. In 1995, Dr Jega was made a Fellow of the Academy of Science Malaysia and concurrently won the National Science Award.

The combination of sports and medicine is in Dr Jega's DNA and therefore his participation is part of a continuous process where he is elevated progressively to various positions. Now he is Deputy President of Olympic Council Malaysia (OCM), an organisation where his father was the founder Secretary. Dr Jega is also President of Malaysian Association of Doping Control Officers. He has sat in numerous Medical Commissions involving various sports and Games. The list is exhaustive and highly voluminous. A key aspect of his work involves doping in world sports.

For Dr Jega, athletics provided a gateway to other sports while the medicine and research gave him the insight to micro and macro manage sports. He held various positions in the Medical Committees in various sports both locally and internationally. All these had paved the way for him to become the Deputy Chef De Mission for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for the Malaysian contingent and then in 2004 he was Chef De Mission for the Athens Olympics. Effectively he was in 2 other Olympics representing the country as its top official, thereby giving him a total of 5 Olympics as a representative of Malaysia. I am sure this record would remain unbroken for many decades.

In fact to the length and breath of Malaysian sports there is no individual who can surpass Dr Jega's contribution. He has continued where his father left and taken numerous quantum leaps in comparison. What is even more interesting is than in whatever he is engaged,the results tend to reflect the excellence ideology that seem to be very much inbred in him. Unfortunately Malaysian sports has only one Dr Jega, and that is probably why we are not seeing the aspect of excellence seeping into the various veins in sports.

Married to Tan Lee Hong in 1969, the couple is blessed with 3 children. Dr Jega and wife, despite their busy lifestyle, have brought up their children well. As i have mentioned that Dr Jega has this ability in that whatever he does , he tends to do it well, so to in bringing up his children. I am also sure unlike his own father Dr Jega is not expecting any of them to follow his blazing trail. He probably wants them to enjoy what they do as he has done all this while.

On 5th June 2010,on the birthday of DYMM Yang Di Pertuan Agong, His Majesty bestowed on Dr Mani Jegathesan the title of "Tan Sri". This is a fitting tribute accorded by the nation to this model Malaysian,, who has shown that sports, education, and career can be effectively combined through a passionately disciplined and determined process, thereby creating a knowledgeable culture which is beneficial to the country.

Tan Sr Dr Mani Jegathesan extraordinaire reminds us that everything is possible if we set our hearts to it and that through a disciplined and determined process there will be no limitation to our achievements. Tan Sri Dr Jega is a living example of this as he has shown time and time again.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hockey Round-Up Gossip

1.Malaysian Women Hockey Team.

Mutiny! Yes, that was what happened with the women's national team. After a disastrous performance at the recent Women World Cup hockey qualifier, the ladies decided they had enough of their coach particular with his "language", as he was preparing them for the Commonwealth and Asian Games for later in the year.

This coach seemed to have "Lady luck" for nearly a decade and can be regarded as Malaysia's most unsuccessful coach. Prior to being with the ladies' team he was the coach of the Malaysian Juniors for the 2001 Tasmanian Junior World Cup. The performance there was so pathetic that we were literally one of the worst teams at the tournament.

Despite this he was given a "life line" to be assistant coach to the ladies team and after the resignation of the foreign Indian coach he was elevated as the chief coach. Mind you without an FIH coaching certificate he was yet again entrusted with a high performance national team. It is probably the "decision makers" at NSC and Women's hockey, who must have had very high regard for him or maybe there are not enough coaches in Malaysia to choose from. The decision making process seems to be highly "mystifying" especially when a person lacks the success profile and the appropriate qualification and is still given to coach high performance teams. Surely, there must be a story to this?

Some say the mutiny was orchestrated bya certain official and i do not think it is proper to state where the person originated. Apparently the person is well known to the hockey and also sporting circle and the said personality had meetings with the players. At this stage it is still a rumour but knowing the person it may not be beyond such an individual's activity.

Now there is a move to replace the ladies coach, however his "Lady's luck" is still shining for he maybe offered the post of coach under the "Pelapis" programme for the ladies development project. All cannot be that bad for the coach as he still would enjoy the various perks that come with an "outstation" based coach which is generously offered by NSC. I do hope there would not be mutinies brewing in the future with the ladies development teams too.

This compromising outlook of NSC and the Ladies hockey in not having people with the right qualification and appropriate success profile for a coaching job shows the short-sighted outlook and how the resources are wasted. In such instances Sports Administrators do not work in the best interest of sports on a meritocracy basis with careful planning embodying the principles of excellence.. Until that comes into play, sports would continue suffering such disastrous fate.

2. Games played by KL off the hockey ground.

2 incidents in a week which involves Kuala Lumpur hockey, makes me wonder whether the administrators of hockey in KL are also exponents of the "Machiavellian" principle ie "the end justifies the means".

Mind you, here we are talking about sports and if it is wrong it must be reported at the earliest and rectified as far as possible, without having to be disruptive.. Unfortunately the desire to win and carry the titles created a zealous manipulative thinking combined with the greed for glamour which forced hockey administrators to undertake matters beyond the very spirit of sports.

In Sukma hockey, KL dropped a Project 2013 player based on a "bias" selection process taking account of "connections" of certain players based on their parents. This discarded young player then went to train with Malacca and KL had knowledge of it.

In fact KL was trying to get the player back or even recommend him to another State but not for Malacca, who were in the same pool as them. Unable to "stomach" that the discarded player was playing for Malacca, KL decided that they would protest on the ground that they had not released the player. The maneuvering and manipulation to "kill" the young boy's opportunity to play in Sukma was more to do with a "fear factor" of KL hockey administrators feeble mind that Malacca would be a stronger team.

Malacca did drill home the point when on Sunday they thrashed KL by 5-1. Maybe KL was right and when they decided to do whatever possible to disqualify the young player, they were not successful. The point being the hockey administrators of KL were "Machiavellian".

In another incident where the KL Under 12 girls became champion by default when their opponent Kelantan was disqualified for registering an over-aged player using another person's identity. KL girls were defeated 4-1 and on protest they were awarded the game. The action to disqualify Kelantan was right but to award the game to KL may set a precedent for the future, where calculative officials may take advantage of similar situation.

Sources indicate that KL was aware that such a player was over-aged but did not protest before the game. The idea was to take an "insurance" on the game just in case they lost. They did lose the game but called on their "insurance" ie to protest on the over-aged player. Had they done it before the game there was no guarantee they would be champion.

Assuming in such instance if the Malaysian Schools decided to disqualify Kelantan as champion and still maintain KL as runner-up, then in the future such "Machiavellian" tactics may not be adopted, for it would make no sense to take "insurance" by not reporting the incident before the game until it is over..

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sudden resignation of K Enbaraj as KL Sukma assistant hockey coach.

"Leopards seldom change their spots" is a famous maxim which usually relates to people who consistently undertake matters which reasonable people would not contemplate. Such people do it with the intention of benefiting their group and ultimately themselves without caring for the consequences others face. These people tend to camouflage themselves in such a way by passing the "bug" to others by making them the sacrificial victims with a straight face and sweet talk. Their "chameleon" nature is such it is not easy to identify them because of their style and manner including the sort of people they keep company with. Indeed most people would not believe that such persons would exists and above all engage in these sorts of shenanigans.

This unusual breed of people generally have "double tongue" ie "what they say they do not mean and what they mean they do not say". They usually get away because the victims usually walk away without confronting them or they are influential enough that they get away with it. For such people this is a habitual aspect and it is a common feature in their daily life.

K Enbaraj today realised that the world is not a perfect place, and that talk and action usually do not co-relate. He found out that the actions of certain people can influence the destiny of others for no reason whatsoever. The point here is that they do not want to permit a young boy to play for a particular State, notwithstanding the fact that the player was not even selected by the protesting State. End of the day the argument decayed to a jargon of formality that the player was not granted official release. Mind you this is about a young boy who is probably Under 18 and rather than encouraging him to play, there are people who call themselves working for the best interest of Malaysian hockey and yet endeavour to disqualify the boy from playing.

This seems to be similar to a story where players were recruited by a leading club and when they were not needed, as there were to many players, they were not released so as they could not play for competitors. Why? They cannot become a threat to the team. The thinking is the team is more important than the whole of Malaysian hockey and the discarded players themselves. Such selfish thinking people can still find their way in administrating and managing Malaysian hockey. Even in such positions they can maneuver to equip their team with the various national players, thereby making their team the present and future national team. It is the art of positioning themselves and dangling the "carrots". Obviously it takes a person with great talent to do such things and probably the maxim of "the leopard seldom changing its spots" may truly manifest in such an instance.

This was Enbaraj's problem. He never comprehended this when he accepted to be Kuala Lumpur Sukma hockey team assistant coach. He was excited that there was a genuine desire to help the young boys. He himself was involved with UniKL and he saw how people worked there to get the young boys to become stars. He thought the same would also happen with the Kuala Lumpur team. There were differences in selection of players and he thought it was healthy, although at times he also felt there was no rationality. Still he continued forging ahead although he felt as assistant coach he had certain limitations as to his influence on matters, so as he does not undermine the chief coach. He was very careful not to overstep the position.

Enbaraj had to painfully accept certain decisions as it involved some of his UniKL boys. He did not protest over it nor make issues about it. He felt if the boys cannot find a place in the KL team they should easily work into other teams and this became the "saving grace" for him. If that was the case then Enbaraj would not have suddenly resigned as assistant coach of the KL Sukma hockey team. Today, he came to know that one of the young boys who was not selected would be playing for another State and KL was formally going to protest at the Manager's meeting on the grounds that they had not formally released him. Apparently Enbaraj requested KL not to protest and give the young boy the opportunity to play in Sukma. What complicated the issue for Enbaraj was the different "stories" told to him which tantamounted to misleading him with the intention to pacify him. Various officials from the very top to others were telling "stories", which seemed to be pointing fingers at others rather than themselves. This "topsy turvy" scenario had nothing to do with the issue at hand ie "why object to a KL discarded young player from playing for another State." It seemed more to do with not wanting another team to be strong.

Enbaraj felt he could not be a party to the protest and to the "stories" and on principle the situation did not offer any choice but to resign as assistant coach of the KL Sukma hockey team. It was a very brave decision and he did not want to be part of a group of people who were denying the righst of a young KL discarded player to play for another State in Sukma. More so, as Enbaraj has just finished the Junior League, he does not want to be seen as killing the aspirations of young boys.

Thank God for Enbaraj there were sufficiently reasonable minded people especially from MHF who overruled KL's protest and permitted the young KL discarded player to play for another State. Enbaraj resigned prior to the decision of the meeting as he felt KL should not have protested. All credit to Enbaraj for standing firm on a principle and above all being prepared to sacrifice his own position. A true servant of hockey.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Junior Hockey League - "Overall performance is not at all encouraging"

The Junior Hockey League (JHL) has just come to an end and it should provide a deep "soul searching" exercise for MHF as the future of Malaysian hockey rests with this generation of players. I start this article with a conclusion ie "There is nothing much to talk about the performance of the teams in the JHL". It is sad but it is a fact. The games were played by the teams who were just trying to get the ball to the goalmouths without a distinct style or pattern of play. The basics in hockey including application of some of the new rules were diabolically poor and the players just ended up "robotic" ie told how to play.

The final of the overall title between UniKL and BPSS Thunderbolt provided enough evidence of the state of affairs of the "junior" generation of hockey players. As much as the JHL reflects on the standard of players, it equally reflects the standard of the coaches too. Many would obviously feel hurt by this but it is important we recognise it rather than live in a world of denial. Unless we know the true state of affairs we cannot adopt the necessary strategy to address the issues. We cannot just go down the same road over and over and make it look like everything is fine. If we want to do that then we are just "baffling" ourselves.

Getting back to the final, let me narrate some of the salient points:

  • Both teams did not have a formation of play ie style or pattern.

  • Both teams were charging straight to the goalmouth. In the case of Thunderbolt they were looking for penalty corners while UniKL scarily troubled Thunderbolt except for the 2 goals. Mind you they did not have even 1 penalty corner in the whole game.

  • UniKl adopted a defensive approach and their attack was based on overhead flicks which the Thunderbolt were able to cleanly trap and instantaneously turn them into attack.This provided Thunderbolt the basis of their "waves" of attacks.

  • UniKL scarified their half line and left a "gaping" hole in the centre which Thunderbolt did not know how to capitalise

  • Thunderbolt's national player was playing like the other players ie did not show the calibre of a national player. The Thunderbolt coach obviously did not optimise his ability.

  • Both Thunderbolt and UniKL had a player each who had 2 months stint with a 2nd Division Dutch hockey club. Their performance and skill did not reflect such a stint exposure. Indeed their performance was below par and i wonder whether their stint is a properly planned programme.

  • Thunderbolt despite the waves of attack and numerous penalty corners, did not have any clues how to get the vital goals.

  • Thunderbolt penalty corner "battery" was a disaster as they fumbled on "stopping" the ball on numerous occasions.

  • UniKL had 2 to 3 players who were "passengers" in the game and the coach did not recognise this to make the imminent changes.

  • In both the teams, the "players off the ball" were not moving to create opportunity for passes to be made.

  • In both the teams, the players "recovery' after losing the ball seem to be very slow. More often they were standing and protesting.

  • In both the teams, the players seemed "ill disciplined" as they seemed to be arguing with the decisions of the Umpires. There is no doubt that the standard of umpiring was also bad.

  • UniKL players did not have a clue how to "run down the clock" in the dying hours of the game.

Overall the standard of the game did not reflect the final of a major tournament ie the JHL. The whole thing was an anti-climax. Although MHF added colour with a "live" telecast and the trimmings of prize giving but the game itself raises a question mark on the future of Malaysian hockey.

I wonder what is being done by MHF? They cannot just leave it to the Sports Schools or the State Project Schools or the Project 2013 people. This is an issue that goes to the fundamentals of the concept of "excellence" and probably that is what is lacking from the top to the bottom in majority of the cases. This is what needs to be addressed and that is something i shall cover in another article.

Till then i think it is important that the hierarchy in MHF must engage itself on this matter and undertake the necessary steps to embody the principles of "excellence" for the future of Malaysian hockey. Do not go with the view that the JHL is over and therefore another event in the calender is finished. The truth of the state of hockey arising from the JHL must be addressed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Enbaraj's "comeback" in hockey is epitomised in UniKL being overall champion in JHL.

The towering figure of K Enbaraj used to be the dominant figure in the defence of Malaysian hockey from the late 80s to the early 90s. This 6-footer started sporting life as an athlete and till today, well over 25 years later, his 400 metres record in Malacca High School (MHS) still remains unbroken. He was in MHS just for his 6th form and the school where he came into contact with hockey was St Francis Institution (SFI).

At SFI he was trained in hockey by a non-hockey playing coach Mr Durairaj. Apparently this teacher was so advanced in his techniques then that he trained the boys to run with the ball using the "reverse" stick. Today as Enbaraj watches the various hockey games he sees this style commonly used and it brings memories back to 30 years especially of Mr Durairaj's vision of the game.

Enbaraj, like most of us, has certain peculiarities and in his case he used to be the "live wire" of the team. A person who spontaneously gives nicknames to his colleagues like "Boss" for Mirnawan. In the case of "Boss" it has stuck on and somehow it personifies Mirnawan. As much as Enbaraj takes the mickey on his teammates, they too have given him back and to many he is known as "Unta" or "Camel". It is probably his height, movement, and the ability to carry sufficient store of liquid that may have prompted such a nickname.

"Unta" is a true "Gandhian" in spirit, of course barring the amber liquid. He gets emotional when he sees people being ill or mistreated including being undermined. He tries in his own ways to change things and usually finds resistances in the initial period. With time and sufficient experience from the setbacks he finds people tend to appreciate and understand his point of view. Something he puts down to everyone's "learning curve".

Used to be living in a glamour as one of the finest fullbacks in the world with the best consistent flat hits for short corners. All this came to an abrupt end when the Malaysian hockey contingent broke camp just 2 weeks before the 1992 Barcelona Olympic. "Unta" returned home and in helping his friends move a large glass sheet, it broke on its own weight which resulted in Enbaraj having a severe injury to his leg. His muscles and ligaments were severely damaged and he literally bade farewell to his Olympic dreams. This also meant that he had to come to terms that hockey was history for him. Something that devastated him as he painstakingly tried to return and it was near impossible. He even had a knee surgery in the hope it would help him but all that only added further frustration to his life.

After a short stint with Yayasan Negri Sembilan in 1995-96, the "Camel" faded a way into oblivion. The humorous Enbaraj was suffering from severe arthritis and the debilitating illness nearly crippled him. The years of suffering took a toll on him and this in a way changed his outlook to life. His philosophical approach of " mind over matter" aided and abetted his struggle to contain the effect of his illness. This forced him to change his lifestyle.

When Enbaraj felt he was ready to come back to society, the timing coincided with the crying need for change in Malaysian hockey because of the declining standards particularly in Malaysia's international hockey furore. Enbaraj together with his friend Azlin became co-signatories of an "open letter" to the relevant authorities, where they solicited the support of former hockey internationals. The group became known as "102 former hockey internationals", who went on to produce a comprehensive document for the future of Malaysian hockey.

This gave a new lease of life for Endaraj and provided the much needed impetus to find himself in society. His break came when he was appointed as coach for Sapura in 2008 for the Malaysian Hockey League (MHL). On his first attempt as coach, Sapura was in the overall final and their opponent was EY, which was coached by younger brother Dharma. The "sibling" rivalry fell in favour of Dharma as EY became the overall champion on penalty flicks.

For the 2009 MHL , Enbaraj became assistant coach to UniKL, a new team in the Malaysian hockey scenario. They were mainly young boys around the age of 21 and UniKL was making a "statement" of wanting to give young talents the opportunity to participate. This led him to continue as assistant coach for UniKL for the 2010 Junior Hockey League. This where one sees the best in the "Camel". He loves working with young kids and he seems to understand their "lingua".

The trial and tribulation he has undergone in his life post 1992, in a way has given Enbaraj a better understanding of people. He believes that everything is time proportional and there are no short term remedies particularly if people are used to certain ways. Change cannot be forced on rather it must be a process encompassing all the necessary elements if there is to be success. Ultimately it must be a self regulating process and this has to be started with the young.

His time with UniKL was very enriching for him. He got to know his players well and slowly was appreciating what made them tick. He may not agree with them but the point is at least he knew their point of view. He stayed , ate and mixed with them throughout the JHL and that gave him an insight. He believes that beyond the resources that is provided to the young players, there is a need for closer interaction so as the young kids also become part of the decision making process. Enbaraj believes this on the long term becomes a self regulating methodology for the young players to self train on issues such as fitness, diet and weight training.

Indeed UniKL's success in the JHL, ie as runner-up in the league and as overall champion is a befitting comeback for Enbaraj to hockey especially in administration. The one-time finest fullback seems to be on the right pathway as he takes upon Malaysian hockey yet again. This time more matured and philosophical having found the inner strength through his "bodily sufferings" and the education process the young boys have given him in the past few months, must surely equip the "Camel" to set the stage to become the finest in his new responsibilities.