Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A hockey scenario - "Truth or a figment of imagination?"

This is an imaginary story of 2 coaches who have been appointed as national hockey coaches of a country which used to be a recognized world class hockey nation. Over the last 8 years the country's international standing in hockey had suffered and they were relegated to past the 15th world ranked position. There was talk of foreign expertise to aid and abet the transformation of the country's international position including qualification to the World Cup. While the talking was taking place these 2 coaches were supposed to be interim and they were only to be there for 6 months.

These 2 coaches were former hockey internationals and was entrusted for the 1st time with such a task. They are straight talking people whose passion is to transform the country's hockey. They were not interested in the "politicking" in hockey that was so prevalent and as such they were not PR people who would otherwise provide the necessary "spin" to any issues in order to safeguard themselves. Their passion was to do the job properly.

The 2 coaches in getting down to their job had to identify some of the key issues including about the players. Apparently their findings were as follows:

  1. The country's team was low in esteem as allegations were made on match fixing. gambling and other vices.

  2. There was talk of financial dealings in the form of lending and borrowing among players and officials.

  3. Consumption of alcohol and cigarettes were rampant and the amount consumed was unusually high including when the team was at centralised training.

  4. Late nights including "clubbing" were a prominent feature with the players whether they were at training or not.

  5. Team training was previously only to commence at 7.30am but more often did so at 8.00am

  6. Trainings were cancelled at the 11th hour and this was something that was becoming frequent.

  7. Absenteeism at training was common.

  8. A clique system had developed in the team where 1 or 2 people became the "godfather".

  9. Training drills became so repetitive that the sessions became boring.

  10. Weights and gym training were more an option rather than compulsory.

  11. Video sessions became a place for players to take a snooze.

  12. Players were regularly faking injury.

  13. Injured players on rehabilitation were taking unusual long to recover and there was 1 who took over 2 years, yet he was able to work full-time as a mechanic and still earn a player's salary.

With this as the backdrop, it would seem that only "fools" would take up such appointments. Still they were there and they wanted to expeditiously make changes. Obviously these 2 coaches were not philosophers, if they were they would have understood what a renowned Polish philosopher had said ie " It is not bringing the new that is difficult, rather removing the old".

From the onset the coaches set into motion the following:

  1. Training to commence at 6.30am sharp. Those not punctual would be taken as absent.

  2. Fitness was a key issue and with a National Sports Authority's involvement to undertake regular measurements on fitness level of players.

  3. Smoking by players to be minimised and eliminated with the National Sports Authority's assistance.

  4. Weights and gym training became part of training curriculum.

  5. Injured players and those on rehabilitation were required to check-in for medical examination on a regular prescribed basis. Note the player who was on 2 year rehabilitation without coming for medical check-ups was finally dropped.

  6. Video sessions became interactive.

  7. Training drills were carefully blended to eliminate boredom.

As the coaches put this in place, the hockey administrators selected a team manager who by taking the position had created conflict of interest and may have also breached ethical issues. He happened to be the paymaster of most of the national players at club level. Effectively, he was managing his club boys at a national level. Some may say it is a "convergence of interests" and therefore it is perfectly ok. Maybe this is where the subtleties of the problems start.

As the coaches got tough some of the past open activities like the financial dealings and betting issues had to go "underground". Effectively things started to be done covertly and certain senior players and other young key players felt threatened and resorted to a whispering campaign to "bad mouth" the coaches. They could not do what they liked to do and therefore the only other way was to undermine the programmes laid down by the coaches.

These clique were the ears of the team manager and a group of hockey officials who originate from a particular province of the country and are referred to as the "province mafia". This "mafia" created bureaucratic issues by laying down what the coaches could and could not do including accessibility to the President of the national hockey body, which could only be done with the team manager. Now the coaches were caught in a "spider-web" and it was no more just managing the national team but also trying to untangle the "spider-web". The distractions were mounting. The team manager and the "mafia" were putting pressure as to who should be selected including who should be in the starting line-up.

Fortunately these 2 coaches were not easily pushed over. They remained steadfast to their objective and continued with the pre-planned journey. In an invitational tournament the coaches did not use a certain player and this did not go down well with the "mafia" and team manager. Following that at a continental tournament held locally, some of the players led by a senior player started a mutiny and were trying to ostracize the coaches from the team. Anyway the actions failed. However at an overseas tournament where the country's ranking would be reappraised the video recordings of games seem to show how certain players at open goal scoring opportunities intentionally fumbled.

In all these the key point is that some of the players were more keen on their own self-preservation rather than the country's interest and this was supported by certain peculiar officials. What was strange is how the team manager seemed to take the side of the players rather than of the coaches. This was probably expected as they are his paid club players.

In all these disciplinary issues were building up, notwithstanding the allegations of match fixing, gambling and financial dealings which remained unresolved. Players coming stenched of alcohol for training, while players were caught "red-handed" coming back at wee hours of the morning in a drunken state and to add to all of it a player lied to the coaches and was caught gambling in an internet cafe. Strangely, even the Disciplinary Committee could not be convened because of quorum and when the punishments were meted out, the team manager just "tapped" the players' hands. The greatest height of insult to decent people was how the player who lied to the coaches walked away freely because the matter was orchestrated by the team manager. He went to the team manager who was his paymaster to resign from the team. No action was taken against him and he continues playing hockey with the intention of playing for the country again.

The coaches' determination to bring young and disciplined players nearly paid off when they entered the finals of the qualifying tournament. The fact that the team had removed the major "bad apples" shows no one was indispensable. Despite this the "mafia" and the team manager are still doing the needful to ensure their influence on the team remains.

Unceremoniously, the hockey administrators have removed one of the coaches. All because he was a strict disciplinarian and cannot be easily influenced. They have kept the other more as a "window dressing" and it would be a matter of time they would "demote" him and make him "eat" his words to deal with players whom he felt cannot serve the nation. I may be wrong but my sense says otherwise.

The morale of this story is that there is no room for anyone who wants to do a good job in hockey. The "forces" present have other agendas and that is why a foreign coach in the initial years could escape such entrapments as the officials do not know how to stand up to a foreigner. The moment he is here for more than 3 to 4 years he too gets swallowed by the system.

To the 2 coaches i think they have done a great job ie attempting to bring sanity in an ill-disciplined hockey environment and considering the "forces" they had to handle and live with. The job they have done may not be appreciated but time would only tell the results of maneuvering and manipulations undertaken by certain officials to place and displace people. In all this there is a price that would have to be paid ie hockey in the country would revert to the days when everything and anything can be done. Bless the country's hockey.

This is a story and if it happens that "the hat fits anyone, they can wear it". If not it remains a figment of my imagination cautioning our hockey administrators to take note that such things are possible.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Is it true? MHF is "recycling" its former foreign coach as the new Director of Development.

Bangsar is now a famous suburb of Kuala Lumpur and is supposed to be one of KL's gastronomically delightful places with the added attraction of the various "nite clubbing" places. One of the famous "drinking holes" in Bangsar which has survived the test of time for at least 30 years, not necessarily with the same owners, is now a meeting place of the hockey fraternity where the "breaking news" in hockey is hotly debated.

Unknown to many, i happened to be at this place when a few were engaged in a discussion on Malaysian hockey, and the topic focussed on Development. The 'breaking news" was that MHF has got over RM2.0 million from the Government for hockey development and MHF is recruiting a foreign coach who has been in and out of Malaysian hockey either as a consultant or national coach for about 15 years. The main thrust of the discussion relates to his proposed salary possibly in the region of RM10,000, which had shocked a few. In his heydays with the Malaysian team it was probably the same figure except in US$ with a number of perks thrown in.

Is it desperate times that he is unable to find employment elsewhere? It was rumoured that Pakistan had shown some interest especially as stories were told how he was seen handing over notes in a game to the Pakistan team management at the recent World Cup while wearing the jacket of Pakistan's opponents.

Those supporting his appointment believe that he loves this country and he has made it his 2nd home and realistically that is the sort of money that would give him sufficient comfort. This in a way negates the "shocker" of a low salary for a foreigner. The antagonists believe what he did to Malaysian hockey as national coach, ie permitted the slide, is setting a "footprint" for a low salary so as to sustain his long term future in the job as it would be difficult to get a foreign replacement at that price.

By which time i was getting bored with the discussion, as it revolved around money and not the core issue of the programmes on development. The argument continued whether RM2.0m was sufficient and whether the bulk of the money would be spent on administrative needs. The argument even drew comparison with the "Sukan Teras" development programme and how it came to an abrupt end leaving the various coaches in a lurch.

Suddenly, the discussion reverted back to the foreign coach again. Indeed there were arguments ranging from his personal likings to financial dealings to his dictatorial manner of coaching. Obviously these are things i would not want to document as they are "hearsay" matters. However it is fundamental that MHF clarifies these matters which any reasonable employer should do. What are these matters? I had heard them before and was not surprised to hear them again. It is in the interest of Malaysian hockey and for the person concerned.

If the rumour is true ie the stated foreign coach is to be appointed as Director of Development, all i can say is for "God to bless Malaysian hockey". In the 90s he was a renowned world class coach but his style and training methods is completely outdated in today's modern hockey. If our young boys are to follow his system, then we may be going back to the "dark ages". Maybe he has changed and if so lets get a panel of coaches to study his programmes and the expected targets with the anticipated results to see that we are investing on the right person.

Yes! we may get him cheap but may pay an expensive price in pushing the clock back for our young boys. It may be an irreparable damage and we may regret it but by then the damage may have already been done. MHF needs to be extremely careful and revisit the whole issue and scrutinize the programmes, target groups, action plan and the achievable results. They have to be professional about it.

As the beers were coming by the jugs, the discussion started losing its focus and there were other developments taking place at this "drinking hole" and i had to leave the scene. All in all it was a stimulating nite and if i only had a "crystal ball" to tell me the future, i can then tell you where Malaysian hockey is heading. At this moment, it is anybody's guess.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Young Malaysian hockey players have to learn English in Holland.

Generally for people to understand one another they must know how to communicate and preferably in a common language. The dictionary defines "communicate" to mean to convey, to transmit, or to make it known. As for "language" it is a system of sound or words by humans to communicate their thoughts or feelings. The idea is hopefully for people to know what one another are expressing. Can you imagine what would happen if people speak in languages that are not understood by one another? Chaos would be the situation.

So when the Deputy Prime Minister as Minister of Education said that there would be extra English classes, he knew how important it is as a common language particularly when you have foreigners or you are in foreign nations. He probably wants our young kids to equip themselves early to face the future challenges in communication.

This brings me to the field of sports. Most of our national teams are playing foreign teams or visiting foreign countries or even having foreign coaches. To make matters simpler and to expedite matters, it is fundamental our lads have some sort of skill to communicate in a language that is commonly used in the international arena. This is for better expression and understanding thereby facilitating their activities and thus enjoying every moment. Usually the language is English.

Therefore when Malaysian hockey sent 2 young lads from the Project 2013 squad to Holland to have a few months of stint with the Dutch Club, we made great strides continuing what was already done in the past where players were in Germany, France, Austria, Australia and New Zealand. Again the players who went had not much of a problem with communicating skills and if they did they had their colleagues with them who could be of assistance.

Having the Project 2013 boys in Holland is visionary and both MHF plus NSC must be praised for giving our young lads such an exposure. The exposure is not limited to the game but also training and probably to the various sciences if the club is one of the progressive clubs in Holland. I used such a term because even the club's website is in Dutch language therefore it is not easy to assess the club. Still the fact that the boys are there and playing in a foreign league would give them a different outlook, thereby strengthening their grit to play hockey in a different style by adopting to new techniques and tactics. All these will augur well if the players are able to comprehend and understand what is communicated to them. Equally the foreign club would also be pleased if the players train and play to their instructions.

Based on information coming out of Holland, a situation has developed where the 2 Malaysian players are finding it difficult to communicate. They cannot hold a proper conversation or fully comprehend English and this has created a dilemma for the club. In fact one of the players had his first test with the Dutch Immigration when he was held up for some time at the Airport as he was unable to properly communicate the intention of his trip. It was with the club's intervention that the whole process was facilitated. Indeed the club had to pursue matters with certain officials in Malaysia on who is to pay for the English course they have to attend to make any sense of their stint in Holland.

Either there was an oversight or it was just the rush to get the players there that various assumptions were made which obviously backfired. It is extremely strange why such trips were not carefully planned looking at various aspects from the players, club's and Malaysian points of views recognising strengths and weakness. Thereupon, what should be done to facilitate matters that works for the best interest of all parties. I think this was what that was missing and the net result is a state of confusion. Maybe because all was done based on personal friendship with the coach of the Dutch club, as he had played in the Malaysian Hockey League for a number of seasons. This "kawan-kawan" basis is good and helpful but it should not in anyway overlook the professional approach to such matters.

This is a lesson for NSC and MHF and i hope such oversights do not repeat. It does not provide a good image to the foreign club as they would think we have taken a "kacang putih" approach to such matters. Further we have unnecessarily stress this young players in a foreign land without equipping them properly. This "slip shot" approach may give the impression what Malaysian hockey is all about today. I hope not !!!!

It would also be interesting to see how the proposed Dutch coach for the national team is going to cope with our players. Would our boys be able to appreciate the "Dutch English" he is going to speak or would our local coaches spent most of their time acting as "interpreters". Maybe the various national teams should go for English classes to facilitate matters ie "belajar inggeris sambil main hockey untuk negara" Of course the much easier solution is for the Dutch coach to learn Bahasa, something MHF & NSC may want to consider. Lets not have an oversight here too.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The metamorphosis of the Razak Cup corresponds to the declining standard of Malaysian hockey.

In life there are usually twists and turns. One day you are on top of the world and then one becomes just an ordinary person. Similarly the Razak Cup tournament in hockey seems to be suffering such a fate. Up to the late 70s the Razak Cup was the premier tournament in the country as most of the States had good leagues and very good school hockey programmes. At the same the late Tun Razak was President of MHF, while he was Deputy Prime Minister and then Prime Minister. After his demise and a few years later the tournament started to lose its glamour and therefore its glitter.

Part of the reason was the shift in emphasis to a national hockey league where corporate teams from the Banks, TNB and so forth became the order of the day in Malaysian hockey. Equally, in the States, transformation was taking place where State leagues and Development programmes were becoming "history" barring Kuala Lumpur Hockey Association, who seem to be very dynamic in their workings and are continuously sustaining their activities in hockey. Some states like Negri Sembilan Hockey Association (NSHA), Penang Hockey Association (PHA) and Perak Hockey Association are trying to keep their "heads above the water" and doing something in their States. Selangor Hockey Association (SHA) is endeavouring to revive its fortunes. The others seem to be doing more talking while some just remain in name.

The prevailing scenario is because people who are entrusted with the positions are there mainly for "self beneficial" reasons rather than for hockey itself. Such chameleon nature in people seems to adopt the motto of "minimum effort with maximum publicity", thereby achieving their own personal objectives.

Similarly, hockey in schools is slowly eroding over the years as the so called dedicated teachers and headmasters have aged and retired. This effectively means that the schools that were traditional " power houses" in hockey have also become history. Most of the new teachers get into hockey to collect the coaching certificates to earn the extra allowances. It is not about passion in hockey ie the love for creating talent at grassroots. Obviously there are a few who we can count by our fingers and they are the exceptions. When passion to create talent is missing, it effectively means that grassroot development suffers ie the grass cannot grow because the roots are not properly nourished.

The other major contributing factor is affordability and accessibility. The game was transformed the day hockey moved to artificial turf. Equipments and grounds have became costly items and families have to decide on priorities before they can commit to such expenditures. This took the toll on the numbers interested in hockey.

Notwithstanding all these the Government has been putting a lot of resources for sports and hockey is no exception. Today there are about 40 artificial turfs throughout the country although a lot suffer from poor maintenance thereby requiring regular replacement. Whatever it is the facilities exist, but not like the hundreds and thousands there are in the top hockey nations ie providing accessibility. Well ! rich countries do not have the sort of priorities that developing countries have to encounter with their resources. Still in hockey the Government has financed Development programmes, the Sports Schools and above all the costs related to the various national teams. Indeed the Government is in a "big" way encouraging hockey. This is good but the accountability of success on the monies spend is neither properly monitored nor questioned to the extent for hard decisions to be made. There is always a compromise for "political rightness" for popularity rather than the merits of the matter. This compromise only goes to reflect why we cannot become a top nation in sports.

Newton's 3rd Law of Physics states that "For every action there is an opposite reaction". With the Government's intervention what has happened is that the State Affiliates and MHF have become highly dependent on the Government. This has taken the pressure from the hockey officials thereby killing or "numbing" their voluntary and creative spirit. The net result is that the hockey officials have in general become "free ride passengers". Now that most of the things are done from the "centre", it leaves a major void in the hockey activities at the States.

This brings me back to the Razak Cup which is to commence tomorrow in Kuantan. Johor was to have been the host however circumstances necessitated the tournament to be shifted to Kuantan. Unlike last year the national players would be involved. More effort is being put by MHF including ensuring a minimum of 4 Under 21 players are in each team. Indeed most Affiliates are sending a team which itself reflects that some effort is being put in by the States. Unfortunately similar to last year some of the teams are using older players with ages of 35 years and over. Some of these players are coaches or have retired from competitive hockey. This reflects the pathetic state of affairs prevailing in their States where hockey is deteriorating. Sad because they have killed the opportunities for the young players and at the same time dragging the older players who have no reason to be there. It is this sort of thinking that adds to why Malaysian hockey is suffering and Razak Cup losing its glitter.

It is these sort of actions and thinking that kills the game especially when it comes from the States. These are the same people who constitute MHF and when they lack forward thinking, how can MHF and Malaysian hockey move forward? They seem to be caught in a "time warp" and have stagnated and therefore not progressed into the modern hockey era. Yet they determine the fate of Malaysian hockey. Why?

Simply because MHF does not have the courage to make the hard decisions which may not be popular yet good for Malaysian hockey. What is that hard decision? The organisations that contribute to hockey by employing the players, having teams in the MHL and some even doing development work are not part and parcel of the decision making in MHF. This is because they cannot become Affiliates and there is a lack of "will" in MHF to amend the constitution. Hockey has progressed yet in Malaysia we use the old structures to administer the game. Unfortunately the old structures are the ones who are doing nothing for the game or making decisions that are not in line with progress. This dichotomy and the absences of corporate and scientific people in the MHF structure shows Malaysia cannot become a world class nation in hockey. That is the truth and the sooner we realise this and do the needful changes. If not what we have made Razak Cup come to in the years that have gone by ie lose its glitter, would be the same fate of Malaysian hockey. Do we want that?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Asian Hockey Federation need to get tough on Pakistan and South Korea including considering banning them from Asian Games.

I am sure Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) would have had their calendar for 2010 well in advance and accordingly informed the various national affiliates. Similarly, the teams participating for the 1st Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) in Ipoh from 13th to 18th April, would have agreed to their participation. Therefore at the 11th hour for Pakistan and South Korea to withdraw seems to be a diabolical decision. Pakistan's problem is their team, team management and selectors have resigned after their pathetic performance at the recent World Cup in New Delhi, while South Korea has not provided a reason. Although Pakistan scenario looks like a "force majeure" situation, it still does not provide Pakistan the excuse to withdraw. They had a good month from the World Cup for the ACT tournament and Pakistan Hockey could have done the needful. Obviously South Korea has no excuse why they cannot turn up as they were fully aware of the tournament.

It seems there was no careful thought process in Pakistan and South Korea on the decision and this may be due to the fact that the ACT tournament has no bearing on the world ranking or would provide a passage of entry for other prestigious tournaments like the Olympics, World Cup or Champions Trophy. This means both the countries can afford to be selfish without recognising the efforts put in by AHF to organise the tournament and other countries who are preparing for this tournament. I wonder what would both these countries have done if the ACT tournament had a significant bearing? One need not 2nd guess, they would have made all the necessary preparations to be at the tournament.

Essentially one has to wonder why AHF has the ACT tournament when it has no significant bearing. Maybe because the Europeans are doing it and the Asians have just decided to copy it. Alternatively it is just one of the tournaments organised by AHF to show how busy Asian hockey is. All these are great except when nations pull out at the 11th hour, it does not do good for Asian hockey or AHF itself.

This is where i believe AHF should have got some recognition or maybe concessions from FIH. Maybe the champions from ACT or its equivalent tournaments in Africa and other continents be given a direct entry to Champions Trophy. This essentially means that Champions Trophy is no more the top 6 ranked teams but rather a tournament representing the continental champions. This tournament essentially becomes representative of "one big happy family" of FIH. I am sure if this format is put into place for the Champions Trophy and ranking points are awarded, there would be very few "delinquent" countries trying to pull out at the last minute. All these points to the fact that AHF may not have the foresight or just that FIH may not be conducive to the idea.

I raise this point because the Champions Trophy in its current format means that 4 European, 1 Asian and 1 Oceanic country are represented. It would be a raw deal for the Europeans and FIH particularly with its European domination. They may not want to compromise. Further incorporating the continental champions may take away the glamour of the Champions Trophy ie tournament of the "top" nations in the world and the finances that come with it from television rights and sponsorship. Such realities need to be recognised and probably this is what dictates world hockey today.

Under these circumstances it is all about rich nations and more so "Caucasian" countries. Facts speak for itself. In the Champions Trophy it is 6 out of 6 as rich and 5 out of 6 "Caucasian", whereas at the recent World Cup 4 out of 4 on both fronts in the semi-finals. I have no doubt all of these has been on a meritorious basis except that it builds a " have and have not gap" in hockey among the rich and developing plus poorer nations. If nothing is done, then the "gap" is going to widen in the future and as i have warned in my previous article: Hockey World Cup - "Domination by the richer nations" in this blog on Monday 15th March, hockey shall only be played and enjoyed by the rich nations.

Lets get back to the ACT tournament and the dilemma that South Korea and Pakistan has posed to AHF. I do hope AHF does not cave in and postpone the tournament to a date convenient to these 2 countries. If they do they set a precedent that is going to come to haunt them in the future or they are admitting to the poor planning of their calendar ie ACT to be held just after the World Cup. If the ACT had a significant bearing i am sure whatever the situation both the countries would have come. This therefore means that the ACT tournament has been undervalued and therefore it is imperative that AHF takes punitive measures including barring these countries from participating in the coming Asian Games. After all the champions of Asian Games have a direct entry to the 2012 London Olympics and in no uncertain terms this would make both these countries not to undermine any AHF tournaments.

More importantly does the AHF have the "stomach" to take such harsh measures? Maybe for "political correctness" such thinking may be outside the thoughts of AHF. This may be the reason why Asian hockey is not making an impact on the world stage.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hockey World Cup - "Domination by the richer nations".

Is hockey a game that is beyond the reach of an average Malaysian to play? Maybe i should extend the question on a worldwide basis. I ask this question because the cost of equipping a hockey player in Malaysia would be around RM700 at the minimum. This is to cover a reasonably good composite stick, a pair of turf shoes, socks, shin guards and a mouth guard. If you include a goalkeeper's attire it is probably more than RM1000. Note that these are only the basics.

Hockey grounds are specialised astroturf pitches and, to hire the pitch, it would cost around RM100 to RM120 per session of one and the half hours. Schools usually do get a discount of 50%. This is the revenue expense but on the capital aspect to built an international hockey site itself would cost around RM 10m to RM15m, depending on the facilities and land cost. This site has to be maintained and that would take a huge chunk of the revenue expenditure. The pitch would need replacement at an average of once every 4 years and this would range around RM800,000 to RM1.2m per pitch. The other replacement cost would be the "flood lights", which is a significant cost factor. Such capital expenditures are usually borne by local authorities.

These expenditures call into question the affordability of playing hockey. Affordability then begs a more imminent question of accessibility to the game by an average person. This is vital for developing and poorer countries, as both the country and the people have to weigh their priorities before incurring such expenditures. Is hockey such a priority that the expenditure is deemed necessary? There may be alternative and cheaper means of indulging into sporting activities that provide greater accessibility to a larger portion of its population eg football. These are inevitable questions that would be asked.

Such lines of thought would always be there in view of the experiences the older generation had with grass hockey. Grass was everywhere and hockey was not played in specialised fields. It was a much cheaper exercise and accessibility was never an issue. This is not a debate between grass and astroturf grounds, rather it is about the economics vis-a-vis an average person's dilemma in developing and poorer countries. Despite being known as a national game in the Indian sub-continent, the numbers attracted to hockey are steadily declining and this must be worrying the people administering world hockey. This phenomenon is also common in other developing and poorer nations as hockey does not provide an avenue for people to get out of the poverty bondage that is offered by football or cricket.

This takes me to the just completed Hockey World Cup at New Delhi, India. I have tabulated below the World Cup positions and the appropriate countries' per capita income and purchasing power parity (PPP) with their respective rankings.

Per capita income literally means how much each individual receives in monetary terms of the yearly income generated in the country. It does not take into account distribution of the wealth in the country and therefore it is only a rough guide to the wealth of the nation. The figures stated are on a nominal basis. Puchasing Power Parity (PPP) is based on the law of "one price" through exchange rate equilibrium, where it equalizes the purchasing power of different currencies for a given basket of goods. Essentially it provides a comparison of living standards in countries. Both these indices provide a sufficient indicator for a country's economic position.

What the Table provides is that developing countries like Argentina, India, South Africa and Pakistan only represent 33.3% of the qualifiers for the World Cup. If you take out the host India, as they automatically qualified, developing countries only constitute 25% of the total. Effectively what it means is that 66.6% of the countries who were at New Delhi are developed countries and each having their PPP exceeding US$20,000.

What is even more glaring is that the top 5 nations in the World Cup have PPPs exceeding US$30,000. Is this a mere coincidence or is it a representation that wealth is the key ingredient to be a highly ranked hockey nation? Although Canada with a PPP of US$38,400 is only placed 10th at the World Cup, the point being that a non-traditional hockey nation has qualified reflecting what wealth has done for the game in the country. Traditional hockey power nations like India and Pakistan whose PPP are around the US$3,000 region are struggling in modern times. Indeed Pakistan created an unprecedented history by coming last in the World Cup.

It would seem success in modern hockey seems to have a direct relationship to the wealth of a nation and its people. This in a way brings out the salient issue that hockey is an expensive game and affordability, which is a pre-requisite for accessibility, is a key indicator whether or not a nation is successful in the game.

If we push the clock 35 years back, India and Pakistan were the "masters" of the game. The game was played on grass and accessibility plus affordability were non issues. The moment hockey became an expensive game, the old "kingpins" slowly started to fall out of grace and the game itself suffered in popularity. Indeed Malaysia too has taken a "beating" and the game is not as popular as it used to be.

Traditional hockey was skillful in approach, taking account of the uneven nature of the ground. Modern hockey is flat with explosive runs built on what the player's anatomy can offer. The game itself seems to give much weight to penalty corners as they can become the significant determining factor in winning or losing.

In essence modern hockey brings together the various sciences from bio-medicine, sports science, bio-mechanics, psychology, nutrition science, physical education, massage therapy,information technology and so forth, which captures the best in a player for the optimum performance of the team. These are complex matters that require the necessary expertise and laboratories to undertake the necessary work such that the appropriate database is created to be used on a "real time" basis during the game. This is to provide the right information to timely take the necessary actions to give the team that extra edge in the game. This means that today's coach must be an extraordinary person who should know how to manage all these elements and utilise it properly in a manner that is beneficial to the team. In short a coach has to be educated on such salient issues and have the experience to manage them.

All these have costs elements and the question is whether developing and poorer countries would want to invest on such matters when there are other greater priorities for these countries. In some of these countries sports is an avenue for people to get out of the poverty chain and therefore sports that provide such opportunities become more attractive. This in a way explains why football has taken such a strong presence in Africa, Middle East and South America, while cricket seems to show its face in the Indian sub- continent. In all these where does hockey stand?

Maybe this is where the past and present leadership in world hockey ie International Hockey Federation (FIH) must take the responsibility of lacking the foresight when making changes, thereby permitting the domination of hockey by the richer nations and allowing an "ugly face" to surface in the decline of the game with the developing and poorer nations. In a nutshell the question of affordability and accessibility would hinder hockey from becoming a popular game in regions where the world population is significant in numbers. If FIH does not understand the simple rule of numbers and the concept of investing today for tomorrow, they might as well accept the reality that hockey in the future shall only be played by the rich nations and enjoyed by them. Today's domination of hockey by rich nations seems to be the trend setting for the future.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Malaysian Cricket Association's Deputy President resigns

I received this anonymous comment on the resignation of the Malaysian Cricket Association's Deputy President. It had caught many "cricket watchers" by surprise and apparently this is an "appetiser" to a "main dish" that is in the making. There is a lot of buzz and it would be wrong to speculate except that the common "thread" to the story is the need for fresh elections.

The story is "juicy" enough but not sufficient to provide a satisfying "thirst quenching" article. Time would help in filling the "jug" with the necessay contents and i think it is best to give it the period for the story to develop.

Below is the full text in blue print of the unedited version of the comment:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post ""Wanted" - Coach for Malaysian cricket":

MCA deputy president quits

Thank God. Its real Merdeka for Malaysian Cricket. We thought we need to wait for a year more. There is few more have to resign, we waiting for tat day.

MALAYSIAN Cricket Association (MCA) deputy president Datuk Dr Amarjit Singh has tendered his resignation, a move seen as a sign that all is not well in the national sports body.Dr Amarjit said his letter of resignation was sent to the MCA headquarters in Kuala Lumpur yesterday and that he had stated time constraint as the reason for his decision to quit.

"There is no need to say anything more nor do I want to hurt anybody. I have come to a decision to resign and that's it," said Dr Amarjit.

His resignation has come at a time when the MCA has yet to fill the post of two vice-presidents, left vacant by Mahindra Vallipuran who resigned about six months ago, and Affendi Fuad Stephens, who passed away early last year.

"But I hope the president (Tunku Imran Tunku Ja'afar) will take a serious look at the situation and fill up the vacancies, including that of ordinary member Gopal Sreenavasan, who has also resigned.

"If not, it is only fair that a re-election be called soon," added Dr Amarjit, who was also the chairman of the MCA development committee. -

Monday, March 8, 2010

Studies or Sports or a combination of both - Is there a need to re-examine the fundamentals of the Sports Schools?

It is the dream of every parent that their child must do well in his or her educational pursuit. Even if the child is climbing in heights in the field of sports, most parents still want their child to have a minimum in educational achievement to help them through the rigour of challenges in life . Essentially there is a need for some balancing act between studies and sports giving both a chance to succeed by being weighted in approach wherever necessary.

I think it is with this wisdom that the Sports Schools were set up and if we look at Bukit Jalil Sports School's (BJSS) "Mission Statement", it provides a self explanatory outlook.


Literal translation: "Prepare education and sports training for the birth of athletic students of world standard".

If we take this a step further and look at BJSS's "Vision Statement":


Literal translation: "SSBJ produces athlete of world standard"

Now we get to the "Objectives" of SJSS, one of which is:

"Memberi peluang kapada pelajar di Malaysia cemerlang dalam bidang sukan dan akademik".

Literal translation: "Provide opportunities for students in Malaysia who are excellent in the field of sports and education".

On paper we cannot dispute what has been enshrined for the existence of the Sports Schools. Very novel and noble ie to combine education and sports, thereby giving our students the opportunities to become world class sportspersons. The key point here is to develop world class sportspersons not world class academics. Having stated that, it does not in any way devalue the aspect of education in sports school. After all it is still a school with the national curriculum.

It is because of this that the classroom timetable is arranged in such a way that:

Monday, Tuesday & Thursday - 9.30am to 2.40pm & 8.30 to 9.50pm
Wednesday - 7.30am to 1.30pm & 8.30 to 9.50pm
Friday - 9.30am to 12.10pm

thereby giving the students the time for sports training in the mornings and evenings. This also allows the National Sports Associations (NSAs) to arrange their training programmes accordingly.

Again on paper, all these are well documented and in essence there should not be any problems. Things should move in a "clock work" manner based on the outlined principles. The only area that needs attention by the various NSAs and other related parties is to adopt to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of the Sports Schools, when they need the students for national training.

This aspect is fundamental for the Administrators of the Sports Schools as they are the "guardians" of the students. The parents have entrusted the administrators and left their children in their care. Therefore there must be SOPs in the Sports Schools to get students to attend national training. NSAs must be aware of such SOPs and strictly adhere to them.

This brings me to the topic of the recent misunderstanding between the Sports Schools and the Project 2013 national hockey team under the "Pelapis Programme"of the Ministry of Youth & Sports (KBS) undertaken by the National Sports Council (NSC). My blog article titled "Is the Sports Schools right in recalling the players?" dated Thursday, 25th February, outlines in brief some of the pertinent matters.

Since then there has been a debate including some questioning the existence of the Sports Schools. Some think that it is no different from any ordinary school so why should students be in such schools. This argument stems from the fact that the Sports Schools recalled the Project 2013 players from national training. In fact there have been "slip ups" on the side of NSC on getting the paperwork promptly and timely to the Sports Schools. The point being the training commenced even without getting proper clearance for the Sports Schools players. The initial "knee jerk" reaction by Sports Schools to recall the players seems a justifiable action.

If the matter had ended there and the various paperwork was cleared in the worst case in 2 or 3 days, then there would not be a follow up article by me. The matter got "out of hand" when stories emerged from various quarters indicating that the players withdrew because of SPM classes. If that is right, the reason itself challenges the very existence of Sports Schools. All the novel and noble ideas laid down by the founding fathers of Sports Schools including its structures and schedules has been undermined by such a reason.

It is the re-arrangement of timetables and having the teachers with the students to assist the students and care for them, that would provide the students and their parents the trust that Sports Schools are providing that balance in education and sports. If you take away sports and just concentrate on studies, Sports Schools would not live up to its Mission, Vision and Objectives. Rightfully, it might as well be an ordinary school.

There is no need to re-examine the Sports Schools as the enshrined "Statements" are absolutely clear. In this instances ie relating to the Project 2013 hockey team, my opinion is that it is an issue of differences that could have been solved easily if parties "did not hold on to their guns", in trying to display each others strength. Strangely, people have been advocating various equations including that the Sports Schools should come under the NSC. All these are "day dreaming" mental exercises of "empire building", which would only go to destroy the good work of the past and present people. As it is, all the parties involved are supposed to work for the betterment of sports but this saga goes to show that sports was the ultimate loser and in this case it was hockey. The point i am making is that if we follow the policies that have been laid down and adopt the SOPs, i think life would be simpler and we all can concentrate on developing world class sportspersons, not world class "trouble makers". This is what we are all here for.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Malaysian hockey must quickly adopt and enforce the changes and developments in modern hockey.

Hockey of yesteryear and hockey of today provide the reflection of the dynamic processes that have taken place in the game. Other than having 11 players in each side, what constitute a goal and the way scores are tallied, everything else has changed ie the rules, the ground, equipments and even the style of play. It is now a very clinical and tactical affair, bringing together various sciences including information technology and some on a real time basis. The idea is to give the teams that extra "edge" in their performances which itself could determine the winners or losers.

Modern hockey is "explosive" enough providing sufficient "eye brow" raising instances where the elements of risk can change it from injury prone to sheer excitement by the seconds. It is this sudden rush of "hot blood" in the human anatomy, driven by the increase in adrenalin, that provides the pulsating fascination to the game. The split second changes undertaken by the delicate thinking of the players' at one end of the field to the other end combined with the movement of the wrists which provides the force to the hockey sticks to do their work is capturing "science" by using "artistic talents" in the execution of the game. It is this spontaneous blending that makes hockey thrilling enough to get people glued to the game.

The transformation of hockey has gone through some radical changes and what we refer to as "modern hockey" today in essence brings 2 fundamental issues to the forefront and they are:
  • Margin of error by players and officials that could determine the fate of a game.

  • Safety of players during the game that otherwise provides a negative image of the game.

Over the years the administrators of world hockey, FIH, has come to terms with these issues and have addressed them by taking mitigating measures to minimise or eliminate the impact of such matters. A lot has been implemented in various FIH tournaments and today at the World Cup in New Delhi they are working in full view of the world audience.

Translating what is taking place, we have to ask ourselves if Malaysian hockey is keeping abreast with it. If MHF wants Malaysian hockey to benefit from these measures than the various MHF Committees should be taking the appropriate decisions and pursuing the implementation of them. Unfortunately at the latest Malaysian Hockey League (MHL), the Competition Committee and maybe even the Medical Committee plus the Umpires Board seem to have overlooked implementing some of these measures or they are just too new for offcials here to comprehend. Maybe the National Junior League that is going to commence soon may provide an ideal tournament. Question is whether we will or we just choose to lag behind and wait until we have no option or when a catastrophe occurs.

The areas we should be looking at are

Margin of error .

  1. The "Video Referral" system currently being undertaken at World Cup at New Delhi, helps to eliminate the controversies that could arise around the circle dotted line just outside the "D" to the goalmouth. It provides every team one right of referral on a "real time" basis at the field. If they succeed, the right of appeal still prevails until they fail in an appeal. Thereafter they lose that right of video referral. This scheme cuts off any unnecessary appeals and at the same time the team must be aware that they are sure of their appeal. This video referral also helps to get rid of the "tantrums" of players when umpires give penalty corners. The video referral and the green card has helped to minimise players' protesting.

  2. The intercom system between the 2 umpires, the 3rd umpire and the video umpire. This system helps the umpires to manage the game properly, as every one of them is in touch with one another, particularly the 2 officiating the game. This minimises errors by the umpires.


  1. Mouth Guards - It would seem most or all the players at the World Cup are using "mouth guards" as a safety precaution. Somehow this habit has not caught on in Malaysia and the officials have not considered imposing it. Maybe here we are waiting for something nasty to happen before it is considered.

  2. Protection face masks and hand gloves - These have become standard accessories with most teams facing penalty corners. Again in our country it is not frequently used by the teams. The risk to injury in a penalty corner is so great, we seem to be taking matters very lightly.

At the last MHL we could see players throwing "tantrums" at the umpires, partly due to the sub-standard of umpiring while in other cases senior players were trying to bully the umpires. If we had applied the measures introduced by FIH at the World Cup, these nonsensical actions would have been minimised.

While todate there have not been serious casualties in hockey, Malaysians are not taught or trained to adopt safety measures. There may come a day where we may regret when a nasty accident takes place in the field. What is sad is we do not take the trouble to encourage people to wear "mouth guards" or protection masks and gloves. We are too "care free" with such matters and it is now critical that MHF finds ways of enforcing it, so hockey can be played safely.

This is where the various MHF Committees must be on top of the situation. They must do their homework and work for the betterment of the game. Unfortunately, what we have is official fighting over seating arrangements or not having a Committee to study such issues or trying to influence players to play for their club or just doing things that are repetitive in nature year after year. The point being there is no genuine passion in commitment to uplift Malaysian hockey. It seems only the TM and his paid staff have the genuineness to do something for Malaysian hockey. Sad but that is the truth.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

70th Birthday of an iconic Malaysian hockey legend.

Once in 4 years, the world is entertained to the fascination of sporting events such as the Olympics, the World Cup for various sports, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and so forth. While the spectators and participants are thrilled by the achievements or behest with disappointments, the events are an embodiment of careful planning, hard work, discipline, determination and perfection of the human anatomy to its best, in order to seek the ultimate glory.

Many are just happy they have made it there, others push their bodies to humanly generate that extra "hormones" in their system to fathom the best in them such that it is the "best of best". It is this competitive spirit and nature that makes the difference between "champions" and the rest.

This brings me to the topic of people born on 28th February. They too go through the "rigmarole" of having to celebrate their birthday once every 4 years. Maybe like the Olympics or the World Cups, they too represent a rare breed of personalities who embody certain principles which specially illuminates them in their profession, vocation or sports. Maybe i am generalising but at least i know of one such person who till today "stands above others or with his peers" by going through the journey of being the best and above all he is still subscribing to it as he celebrated his 70th birthday.

This person is 4th of 11 siblings in the A T Rajaratnam family. Born in Sungkai, educated at Government English School (GES), Tapah, he has come a long way from where he was to what he has gone through to what he is today ie the fulfillment of a destiny. This person is no other than Datuk R Yogeswaran, who celebrated his 70th birthday at a very "fitting" place, the Olympic Hotel at Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) Building, surrounded by the sporting heritage structures like the Merdeka Stadium and Stadium Negara. These iconic structures and the cross-section of friends who were there gave the function a colourful spectrum to reminisce the past by sharing the comradeship that has held them together till today. It is 1Malaysia at its best.

Today, Yoges as he is known to many is a complete sports personality. He has journeyed through as a player, captain, coach, manager, coaching chairman while being a teacher and thereafter as a national sports administrator. The gigantic 1st step in his journey was not in hockey but rather in football. In 1957 just as the Merdeka Stadium was hastily completed in record time for Merdeka celebration, GES Tapah were playing Sultan Sulaiman Kota Baru in the Malayan Champion Schools football final there. The star of the game was Yoges as he netted the solitary goal that gave GES Tapah the victory. At a historical site on an historical year Yoges started to "pen" his mark into the Malaysian sporting history.

Yoges was a multi-talented sportsman. As a sprinter, it helped him "waltz" his way through as one of Malaysia's natural left wingers in hockey, while the short burst runs gave him a distinct advantage in football and finally cricket rounded him to be a true gentleman. Such was his grace in the sporting world, he easily found a place at Malayan Teachers College (MTC) especially after his scintillating performance and scoring against South Korea in 1959 at the Merdeka Stadium. It is at MTC that he teamed up with another of hockey's iconic legendary sons, the late Datuk Ho Koh Chye. They commenced their "bonding" that made them "spiritual brothers" as the years went on. Both together represented Malaysia at 2 Asian Games and 2 Olympics and each created history as they went along. Koh Chye for heading the hockey ball with his bare head to save a goal against India while Yoges despite his hamstring problem played against India and scored the winning goal. The mighty India was humbled for the 1st time by Malaysia at a Test match in Malacca. It was history in the making.

When Yoges decided to retire as a player he had served Malaysian hockey for a good 10 years. As he left one aspect of hockey he started another and this time as a coach. He received his training as a hockey coach in the UK. Yet again he teamed up with his "spiritual brother" Koh Chye as his Assistant for the 1975 KL World Cup. History was again in the making as Malaysia came 4th in the tournament and that position still awaits being emulated for the last 35 years. Yoges then became coach of the National Juniors and in Paris at the 1979 Junior World Cup Malaysia came 4th. Yet another feather in Yoges hat.

Every good thing has to come to an end, so Yoges also moved on from coaching and this time it was about team management. In 1998, Yoges became team manager of the national team for the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. For the 1st time Malaysia made it to the final of the Commonwealth Games and won a silver. Another bit of history was written. He continued as team manager for the 2000 Olympics where Malaysia were just a few minutes away from the semi-final when we were let down in the dying moments of the game. With the 2002 KL World Cup, Yoges also gracefully retired as team manager probably recognising that there was not much more he could bring to hockey.

Hockey is Yoges's obsession. It is part of his DNA, and more so as his buddy and "spiritual brother" Koh Chye was in the same boat. Both have families who tolerated their husbands' or fathers' love for the game. That sort of family understanding provided that greater commitment of what they brought to Malaysian hockey. Above all, it is not what they did or did not do rather it is their thinking and their interaction with people from all walks of life that made the difference. It is this fine "art" that is in the possession of Yoges that wins him his friends and make his enemies (if any) dread him.

With the demise of his "spiritual brother" in December 2008, Yoges seems to have taken a "back seat" on the active mode of hockey. He probably thinks with time the younger generation must find their way into hockey administration and do things the way they feel is right. He does not believe that the "old ways" is the only way forward and thinks everything must be given its own weight in merits. Since he has spent a good 35 years in administration of hockey over and above the 10 years as player, it is time Datuk R Yogeswaran becomes the "elder statesman" of Malaysian hockey. Indeed Datuk Yoges must not be seen purely as a role model but rather as a metaphor for aspiring Malaysian hockey players, coaches and managers in their journey to succeed in world hockey.

"Many Happy Returns on your 70th Birthday, Datuk R Yogeswaran."