Monday, August 30, 2010

Congrats Malaysian hockey and Stephen but do not let the "success" be "hollow".

As i sat in front of my computer, i was in 2 minds of what to write over the Malaysian hockey success at the 5 nation invitational tournament at Paris. Malaysia became Champions and the question is should we be "chaffed" about it? It is rare these days to see our hockey lads winning tournaments especially in foreign lands and therefore whatever the opposition, 2nd rated or otherwise, it is only proper that we must extend our congratulations to the team, coaches and supporting staff.

I use the word "proper" because the effects would have been devastating to Malaysian hockey if we had not become Champions. On world ranking we are above all the other teams that participated and therefore it is a great morale boaster for the team and also for Malaysian hockey that we topped the tournament. In that sense the hockey lads in Paris did their job and therefore congratulations is the order of the day.

The other question that would arise is whether one is happy with the performance of the lads? This is a fundamental question to be answered before we get carried away with winning the tournament. I ask this question based on the following rationale:
  • Malaysia is the highest world ranking team in the tournament.

  • Malaysia has been on centralised training for the past few months for the Commonwealth and Asian Games in comparison to the other teams.

  • The Malaysian team had warm-up tours to China, Australia and Europe before the Paris tournament.

Effectively what it means is that we were probably the "most prepared" team at the tournament. Therefore winning this tournament should be a normal phenomenon like "day following night and night following day".

The more important question we should ask is whether the performance was convincing. The goal margins of victory Malaysia had against Poland, Scotland and France does not bring great joy to any hockey analysts. Moreso if we take account of the margin of our defeat with Ireland. In summary, taking account of the preparation the other teams had put in in comparison to Malaysia's training phases, the performance of our lads is definitely lacking and there is plenty, and i mean plenty, of room for major improvements.

This in a way begs another question ie whether we have the time to make that mark improvement before the Commonwealth and Asian Games? This question has to be considered by the team management because at both the Games, the best teams and higher ranking teams would be there and they would be much more prepared than the teams that participated at the Paris tournament. As i had stated previously, that is going to be the "real" test and will our hockey lads be able to escalate their performances to a level that they are medal contenders?

WELL! it is important we celebrate the Paris success so long as we understand that victory would be "hollow" unless we set it as the start of the journey for far better things to come, provided we recognise the issues at hand and address them properly. Well done Malaysia and Stephen Van Huizen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

UniKL - The hope for young hockey talents seemly losing its direction

When UniKL (University Kuala Lumpur) came into the 2009 Malaysian Hockey League (MHL) scene, they brought with them a refreshing sense of hope to Malaysian hockey. It was the first Umiversity to participate at the MHL and moreso as its Chancellor is no other than the President of MHF ie the TM. It would seem that the TM is preaching exactly what he practices, which is popularising the game.

What was refreshing in UniKL's approach was its vision of embodying the principle of providing a platform for young talents to participate in the senior league. There were no big names or former internationals in the team and what was great is that they did not end up as "whipping boys" of the league. As debutant's in the league they gave most teams "the run for their money". While the TM was the prime mover of the idea, the lads on the ground namely coach Vicki, assistant coach Enbaraj, consultant Mirnawan, a Dutch Advisor working with an oil & gas outfit and the team manager Amir - a full time staff of UniKL, must be given due recognition for their efforts in moulding the team.

The same management team minus the Dutch Advisor was the principal personality behind UniKL's success in the 2010 National Junior League. UniKL became runners-up in the league and the overall champions. Some creditable performance yet again for the debutants. In a nutshell it would seem UniKL had started making "waves" in Malaysian hockey.

However within a year of their debut, some strange maneuvers are taking place in UniKL, maybe because of the quick success and the publicity they had received. Whether it was due to the "swollen head" of the team management, it would seem that they are losing the purpose as to why they were set-up. This is manifested as the cracks appear with some of the players moaning and groaning as UniKL seem to have disregarded in paying their young players their share of the prize monies even 3 months after the end of the National Junior League. This is further compounded in the change of thinking as UniKL greedily look for success by indulging with "big bucks" and acquiring big names for the team in the coming MHL. It would seem the freshness UniKL brought to Malaysian hockey is being polluted as they adopt the old ways of some of the other teams. Suddenly the "odour" coming out of UniKL seems to reflect "staleness" ie the freshness seems to have been lost.

The closeness of the team management of UniKL with the main people behind Kuala Lumpur Hockey Club (KLHC) seems to permit the flow of players that are being discarded by KLHC to UniKL. Most of those making the "beeline" are older former internationals including one of 35 years. It would seem KLHC's "good riddance" is becoming UniKL's "rubbish". As to why UniKL has taken such a radical and controversial approach is completely baffling.

The storyline does not end here. Rumours have it that UniKL has also started pinching players from other clubs. Lately, unconfirmed reports indicate 2 staff of a particular employer who has a team in the MHL have resigned and would be joining UniKL at the end of the notice period. The interesting aspect of the storyline here is one of them is a national discard and also from his previous employer's team too. As a result he was absent from the 2009 MHL and apparently he went to play at an European country league. He did gloat how well he performed there but did not reveal that he probably was playing at a lower league ie 3rd or 4th Division. Further flavour is added to the story as this player is known to skip training sessions regularly because he seems to be prone to an unusually high rate of injury and this time around for the notice period of resignation he is supposed to be also on medical leave. Somehow and somewhere UniKL seems to have been taken by him notwithstanding the stories that are being told.

The other player that would join UniKL from the same employer is currently on tour with the national team. This player is enticed by the "big bucks" and the fact that the new players may get yearly contracts and some may even get employment is becoming an added attraction. This seems unusual as in their debutant year the players contract only covered the period of the league. One wonders whether the new found wealth in UniKL's team and the "new thinking" with the team management would help to maintain team unity or create greater disruption. Time would probably give us the answer.

UniKL themselves may have to start questioning themselves whether in fact any of the players are undergraduates of the University. I believe this is something UniKL may find it hard to fulfill although they may argue that a minority may be offered employment opportunities. It is this misguided outlook of just wanting to win that the team management may compromise of building a young team of players including giving them the opportunity to study at the University. Such an omission would literally make UniKL similar to KLHC ie spend the "big bucks" to get the big names. The objective of creating new stars seems completely obliterated.

The chapters of the story do not end here. The hockey grapevine is talking that UniKL is equipping themselves with a foreign coach and maybe a few foreign players too. If there is truth to this then there is no doubt that UniKL is obviously adopting a "Machiavellian" style iie the end justifies the means. To win the MHL title is by packing the team with stars. So what difference is there if one is prepared to throw the money eg going and buying ready-made food.

In a way it comes back to what the Chancellor of UniKL is preaching in hockey. Are UniKL team management taking cognisance of this or are they blinded by the wealth they are collecting from their sponsors and therefore it is about winning at all costs? If that is so then all the effort the TM is putting into MHF to create talents is going to a waste if such players do not have vehicles like UniKL to give them the opportunities.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The national coach should not be singled out alone - "It is a collective responsibility of everyone"

Following my article: On tours playing mediocre hockey teams - "There must be problems in team management" dated 10th August 2010, the national coach has been receiving a certain amount of flak in the comments. The question is:" whether it is fair to single him out"? Can the national coach unilaterally make decisions without going through the approval procedures and processes? I think that is something we have to explore before the "blameworthiness" is placed on a certain party or parties.

The coach came into the scene early this year. Without doubt he is the most experienced and successful local coach with the former national teams. Prior to current appointment he had been off the international arena for at least a good 8 years. Fortunately he has kept abreast with hockey by coaching one of the MHL teams.

The issue at hand is about the 3 built-up tours for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

The pertinent matters are the following:
  • Timing of tours ie Visit to Australia when the Australian national team was away in Europe preparing for Champions Trophy, then now the visit to Europe, after the Champions Trophy when the participating countries have no reason to keep their national teams together.

  • Playing with teams that are of lower ranking like Pakistan 2nd team and Russia on tour to China. Similar approach was adopted in Australia ie clubs and Institute of Australian Sports teams. Consistent approach is being maintained for the European tour during the fasting month ie clubs and teams of lower ranking namely Ireland, Scotland, France and Poland.

  • Planning for warm-up matches seems to omit matches for the last 2 months prior to the Commonwealth and Asian Games. A diabolical state of affairs to planning and even in this 11th hour MHF is trying to get an invitational event going but without much success.

When we look at the thought process that has gone into it, one wonders what is the purpose of playing with mediocre teams. After all at the Commonwealth Games we have Australia, England, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Pakistan who are ranked well above us also bidding for medals. Whereas in Asian Games, we have South Korea, India, Pakistan and China ranked above us too. Therefore in realistic terms are the tours really serving a purpose to prepare the team for winning medals?

There must be collective responsibilities as the system in place seems to have "rubber stamped" the whole idea of the tours without taking an indepth analytical position of pertinent matters. It seems every party or parties had condoned the tours without realising the implications. How can this happen when it involves the following:

  1. The team manager is supposed to be responsible for the administration of the team. He is usually the spokesperson and at tournaments he gives the impression of a concerned face in television, yet he too seems to have endorsed the plans. Even if he is outnumbered in team management, he still has the Team Management Committee which is chaired by the Deputy President.

  2. Team Management Committee (TMC) is supposed to overseer the high performance teams of MHF. Although this Committee itself is embroiled in controversy as to its formation, it originally seemed to yield great powers. Sitting in this Committee is also a key NSC official who seems to have significant influence on the Committee's decisions. Again i wonder how this Committee just "rubber stamped" the details of the tours without giving a thought to various drawbacks.

  3. MHF Management Committee is ultimately responsible for whatever happens in Malaysian hockey. This therefore poses the question as to what information was provided to the Management Committee for them to get caught in endorsing such tours. Maybe they too decided just to be another "rubber stamping" body without giving any due consideration to the matter.

  4. The National Sports Council (NSC), the financier for the tours, seems to have taken the same approach as the TMC and MHF Management Committee. NSC seems to endorse the expenditure and the plans of the tour without asking the relevant questions. It would seem there is no need to justify the expenditure including its basis. It would seem that so long as NSC has the budget, why not spent the money. This begs the question whether NSC is the proper guardian to Malaysian sports and its funds.
From the above you could realise that everyone just allowed the tours to take place without prompting to ask the right questions taking account the big picture. So we end up playing 2nd rated teams at a time that does not make sense to the top teams in the world. It just shows how the whole system could not act as "check and balance" to badly planned, ill timed tours which is only going to provide the wrong perception to our players.

So to blame the national coach is not right. The system did not intellectually engage the coach to discuss the plan of the tours and constructively modify it to suit the need requirements of all parties concerned. I presume this is why we have not progressed to the top world rankings when our own officials from the top to bottom cannot put together plans to take us there. Absolutely sad to what is happening with the national team.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On tours playing mediocre hockey teams - "There must be problems in the team management".

The wisdom of the senior national team tours - "Timing, countries & opponents", was the title of my article dated 18th July 2010, which i hoped would stir some thinking in the team management and MHF. It would seem there is "lethargic" thinking in MHF as they continue their 2nd-rated thinking of playing warm-up matches with 2nd rate teams ie those that are behind them in the world ranking. It seems to be a ploy of creating a "feel good" factor by playing with such teams so as to give the impression that all is well with our senior team.

In the China tour the national team played China, Pakistan 2nd team and Russia; all behind us in ranking. Following which they went on an Australian tour when the Australian national team was already in Europe for their warm-up matches before the Champions Trophy. Again they played with clubs and teams which probably the team management believes would not stretch the Malaysian national team or provide humiliating defeats. A purposeful way of creating the "feel good" factor for the players, MHF hierarchy and the hockey fans. This is probably a neat way of "pulling wool over the fans eyes".

Today they left for an European tour. The 1st leg is Germany, where they are playing 4 club teams and then fly to Ireland to play a few Test matches before coming back to Europe ie Paris to play a 5 nation Invitational tournament. Again the timing of the tour "stinks" ie after the Champions Trophy and this may explain why countries like Germany, Holland, Spain and England do not bother to even consider playing Malaysia. Further the hockey season in Europe coincides with winter and playing clubs in summer is only providing pre-season practice for the club teams. The question of flying across to Ireland without stopping over and playing England seem to reflect "dullness" in the mental faculties of the team management. Having omitted England may be out of a "fear" factor and the fact they come back to Europe for the 5 nation tournament calls into question the "zig zagging" route they have employed is a further proof of the "dullness" that is prevailing in the organisational aspects of the team.

To top it all the Malaysian team is again playing with countries that are below them in world ranking. Why this diabolical thinking that is prevailing in the team management? It is probable they want to have the "feel good" factor of making sure they are not pitted with high ranking teams and get thrashed. It is this "fear" factor that is taking Malaysian hockey through some strange process of preparation by playing with mediocre teams that is giving a false sense of believe and hope. Eventually the truth shall be known when the Commonwealth and Asian Games begin. By then it will be too late and the team management would start reading their prepared script of: "these are the best players we have and what else can we expect".

At that stage we would have forgotten the strange process of preparation and playing with mediocre teams in the hope we can win gold in the Asian Games and qualify for the Olympics. This "cock eyed" outlook is killing Malaysian hockey and only encouraging the good resources of the country to go to waste. The planning that has gone into the 3 tours gives the impression that: "someone cannot even organise a drink up in a brewery". It shows the shallow thinking that is prevailing with the team management.

To make matters even worst, for the preparation of the Commonwealth and Asian Games following the European tour, ie for nearly 2 months, the national team would not have had any warm up matches. MHF is desperately trying to put together some invitational tournament as an 11th hour "saving grace" exercise. It calls into question what the team management have been doing all this while? It is very unlikely that the national coaches have screwed up all the planning and the tours. The belief is that these matters have been under the jurisdiction of the national team manager and apparently he has been using his personal contacts in Europe and Ireland to facilitate matters. This in a way has sidelined the coaches and the MHF administration and has created the "feel good" syndrome.

Psychologically, these sorts of activities are usually undertaken in view of the "fear" factor. Probably, the team manager did not want to be put in a corner to answer for the performance of the team if they have humiliating defeats during their warm-up matches if they play the top teams. Maybe the preparation period is so long and the stress levels would also be long. Therefore playing mediocre teams helps to minimise the stress levels. It is this sort of selfish thinking that goes to jeopardise Malaysian hockey.

The disaster in this whole episode of preparing the team for the Commonwealth and Asian Games is that neither NSC nor MHF had taken the trouble to review what exactly the team management are doing. If there was a process of accounting for their plans then both NSC and MHF would have questioned why the national team is embarking on tours and playing with mediocre teams. Each tour runs into hundreds of thousands of ringgits and one would have thought such a basic question would have been asked. It would seem that NSC is just prepared to spend the money so long as it was budgeted. It would seem there is no need for further justification, so the national team has just got to spent the money. This "tidak apa" attitude by NSC compounded by the failure of MHF Team Management Committee (TMC) to act properly shows why the national team is not going to succeed in both the Commonwealth and Asian Games.

Lets better appreciate the fact that when we are not playing with the best, we are deluding ourselves by playing with teams at lower rank than us so as we have the "feel good" fact, which is ultimately going to destroy the future of Malaysian hockey's quest for international success. This "shortsighted" thinking of the team management is further putting Malaysian hockey 5 to 10 years behind and it is a matter of time before we will join the ranks of 18 to 20th in world ranking.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

No end to the "Inquisition without authority" saga.

To many, when a decision is made, they are prepared to accept it even if it is not in their favour. Some would moan and groan about it but eventually accept the decision. There would inevitably be a selected few who believe that the decision was not fair because they think that the "decision maker" may not be fully furnished with the pertinent information to make the right decision. They continue the "fight" and provide the necessary undercurrent to keep the issues under "boil". It is their hope that the subject matter would be revisited and the decision may change. This itself is the making of a "saga".

In my last article titled: "Inquisition" without authority on the aspect of payments to Project 2013 hockey players, dated 30th July 2010, there was an unusual volume of "traffic" in comments on the matter. Clearly there are factions; ie on one side there seem to be the pro Project 2013 management team supporters and on the other side is the support for MHF Treasurer, President KLHC who is concurrently Vice President of KLHA and the teacher coach of Bukit Jalil Sports School. I am naming these people based on what i have made out of the various comments.

The issue here is that at the last MHF Council meeting, TM as President of MHF had informed the Council that the complaint of non payment to players of the Project 2013 for the SEA Games in Thailand by the team management does not arise based on their investigation. In fact at the meeting TM announced bonuses for the Sea Games Project 2013 team. For all purposes the matter is settled but the undercurrents seem to give another impression. The "big ticket" here is the anticipated meeting that is being planned after Raya where the TM is supposed to be meeting the Project 2013 players. There is this notion that the truth would emerge at that gathering as some of the players would "spill the beans" to the TM. 'Presto !" the truth would finally be known, at least in the minds of people who are committed for such a scene.

Driven by this belief, these people have kept the issue fully ignited. On the other side, the supporters of Project 2013 team management take the view that these are fabricated stories that are being "bandited" around to discredit the team manager and coach in the Project 2013 team. The shocking aspect is that the team manager of the Project 2013 team was not on that trip and therefore implicating him is a travesty of justice. Effectively making such an accusation is making the case look extremely fragile. As for the coach, if people are aware of the system of responsibilities created among the team management, then they would know that the coach has nothing to do with the funds.

Maybe, if there is still a "story" to be told and if it does really matter in the minds of certain people, then it is important that matters must be done the proper and formal way through MHF. Their covert style operation will only create more unwarranted gossip that is only going to "stir" the issue further to the detriment of hockey. One thing that has happened is that so much "mud" has been thrown there would be a sense of distrust created between some players and the Project 2013 team management. This distrust would have repercussions both on and off the field. This is what has been created and the continuous undercurrent would further catalyst this distrust. This would only go to disrupt team unity and ultimately performance. So why then worry about the future of hockey when the very fabric of the future is being destroyed today?

To avoid such circumstances, it is imperative that all relevant parties ie MHF Treasurer, the President of KLHC, the teacher coach from BJSS, the Project 2013 players and the team management be gathered with MHF, NSC and Ministry of Education officials to settle this issue once and for all. If the relevant parties are found misleading Malaysian hockey they must be immediately suspended pending disciplinary action by their employers. If they do not have employers then from Malaysian hockey. This also goes for players too.

We have to take such decisive actions or not when we allow such matters to linger it creates greater problems and destroys the very purpose of setting up Project 2013 team. The process also weeds out people and players who are out to create problems, thereby permitting a smoother journey for the future. Failure to act by MHF is only endorsing such negative acts and undermining the TM authority as President of MHF. MHF cannot turn a blind eye especially when its own Committee member, key officials of Malaysian hockey from an Affiliate and Sports school plus one of their high performance team management are implicated with stories notwithstanding the official position of TM as President of MHF on that matter. This has to stop and MHF must act promptly and decisively.