Is Being a Good Host Enough?

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The singular aim of the tournament then (and now) was to provide the local team with the competitive exposure it desperately needed following its fall from grace…

The 20th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament has come and gone. In terms of results, there is nothing to shout about. It was another dismal showing for the Malaysian team, which was full of promises following the silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games. While the other six teams fought for a placing in the finals our players had to contend with the wooden spoon.

As expected, Australia lived up to its top billing, emerging champion for the sixth time pushing Pakistan into second place. Pakistan was champion three times since the tournament’s inception in 1983.

Malaysia, in spite of being host and playing in front of a vociferous home crowd, has never once stood on the podium as champion. The best it has ever mustered was finishing runner-up in 1985, 2007 and 2009. It has been the same each successive year, a placing in the middle or right at the bottom of the table.

Among the few games which the country excels in is hockey. We have a proud hockey tradition dating back to the colonial era of the 1900s. Premier English schools like ACS Ipoh, Malay College Kuala Kangsar, Anderson School Ipoh and King Edward Taiping had produced outstanding hockey players who donned national colours at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and at the Rome and Tokyo Olympics in 1960 and 1964, respectively.

Malaysia fared pretty well at successive Asian Games beginning with the third Games in Manila in 1958 when hockey was first introduced as a competitive sport. For the record, Malaysia or Malaya then, was ranked third in Asia, behind giants India and Pakistan – the teams to beat at almost every Olympics before 1980. It was only after the World Cup 1975 that Malaysia’s fortunes took a dive. From being the fourth best in the world, behind Pakistan, India and West Germany, she suffered an abrupt slide in ranking.

The decline in Asian hockey began with the advent of artificial turf in the 1980s. The heavier-built and robust Europeans had a distinct advantage over the smaller-stature Asians whose forte was in their nippy stick work. Hitting power increases on a flat and smooth surface of the artificial turf unlike the rough and irregular surface of the grass pitch. Long passes, hard-hitting and quick stopping of the ball became the norm.

The emphasis is on speed, stamina and absolute concentration. A momentary lapse in focus is fatal. Coaches would shout profanities at their charges to urge them on. The Malaysian players fell into this onerous trap, not once but almost all their four round-robin matches. Their only victory was against a lethargic South Korea team who has yet to find its footing.

So what has this to do with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup? The tournament began as a bi-annual friendly in 1983 pitting some of the best hockey nations in the world. After five appearances it turned annual in 1995.

The singular aim of the tournament then (and now) was to provide the local team with the competitive exposure it desperately needed following its fall from grace. While Australia, Germany, Spain, Holland and Russia improved by leaps and bounds, Malaysia remained stagnant. Her ranking in Asia plummeted when it played nursemaid  to emerging hockey nations such as South Korea, Japan and China.

The one very glaring weakness of the Malaysian side at Azlan Shah Cup 2011 was its erratic performance. The players played in patches. They were not in the right frame of mind to do battle with seasoned teams despite having competed in the Malaysian Hockey League. The league, in all its simplicity, is “a tournament which has four good sides playing against social teams.”

Malaysian Hockey Federation officials, from the President downwards, were too apologetic, accepting defeat as a matter of course. Coach Tai Beng Hai kept reminding us that Malaysia, ranked 15th in the world, had lost by a narrow margin to a seeded team. His other excuse, which I found repulsive, was his frequent reference to the Olympics Qualifier. Doesn’t he know that only one team will make it to London from the three qualifiers?

Can Malaysia come on top in the qualifier after such a poor outing at Stadium Azlan Shah, Ipoh? I doubt it but there again, anything can happen. The burden of responsibility falls squarely on MHF and Beng Hai to prove otherwise.

Must we be remembered for being a good host while our team continues to languish in the pit? This is one sobering question which requires an equally sobering answer.

3 thoughts on “Is Being a Good Host Enough?

  1. Ipohite, well expressed, your article and your comments. As long as we are incapable of treating each other fairly be it in the Government or otherwise, there will remain a hollow goal for us to seek progress, development and success. Racism in whatever form is against humanity and should NOT be tolerated. As U have stated ” Malaysia will forever remain in the middle, I think at the bottom of all bottoms!

  2. Politics will, inadvertently, find its way into every nook and corner of our social life, including sport and hockey is not exception. So long as MHF can withstand the attack, it is safe. Unfortunately, it can’t. Herein lies the problem.

    The federation’s leaders are forever in denial. Can we progress with this sort of mentality? The answer is a big NO.

    So, like the Corruption Index, Malaysia will forever remain in the middle or at the bottom half of the ranking list for many more years to come.

  3. do away with the quota system in team sports, pick only the best players to represent the country irrespective of race and we can improve our standing.

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