Hockey, Malaysian sports’ red-headed stepchild

Hockey remains close to my heart as it is a game my family members excel in.

My dad played it, although he made his name as a goalkeeper for Negeri Sembilan’s football team. My uncles, cousins, and a brother and sister, represented Malaysia in international hockey competitions like the SEA Games, Asian Games, and the Olympics.

It was also my first ‘beat’ when I became a journalist with The Sun, many moons ago.

Despite winning countless medals and honour for the country, hockey has always played second fiddle to football – undoubtedly the world’s No. 1 sport – and badminton, Malaysia’s most successful game.

The powers-that-be seem to shun hockey, despite it having a better chance of excelling than football. While our national footballers struggle to qualify for international tournaments, our hockey players have played in nine World Cups and 11 Olympics.

Our national football team has never qualified for the World Cup. It went to the 1972 Munich Olympics and joined the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games.

At the Asian level, hockey has contributed one gold, 11 silver, and 15 bronze medals, whereas football only has two bronze medals from the Asian Games – 1962 and 1974.

These medals do not include the near-total domination of Malaysian hockey at the Southeast Asian level.

There was a glimmer of hope that hockey would get due recognition when it was included in the Road To Gold (RTG) programme last June. That move, however, did not go down well with certain quarters as they felt that RTG should only be for potential gold medals.

For the record, the RTG Programme is a multi-million ringgit project aimed at giving the best athletes in the country extensive support services to win Malaysia’s first Olympic gold medal.

Olympic Council of Malaysia president Tan Sri Norza Zakaria defended the move. He said including hockey in the programme was to help the men’s team win the gold medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games in September – and earn an automatic slot to the Paris Olympics.

The team, however, failed to win a medal. Although it still had a chance to go to Paris via the qualification rounds in January, it was dropped from the programme in October.

It “made sense” to some for the government to eliminate hockey from the RTG Programme and save money, despite the Olympic qualifiers being three months away.

However, it also “made sense” to those in government to reward the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) with RM5 million despite the national team’s elimination from the Asian Cup in January, where it failed to win a single match.

Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh explained that the money was for FAM’s operational expenses, and to help it regularly qualify for future Asian Cup competitions.

While that money was not from the RTG budget, wouldn’t the RM5 million be put to better use to help the hockey team qualify for the Olympics?

Sadly, the Malaysian hockey team failed to qualify for Paris.

The RM5 million given to FAM was on top of the RM10 million former prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob gifted the national body in January 2022.

Why all this talk about hockey? Well, I was reminded just how badly the sport is treated in the country when I attended a press conference for the launch of the Selangor Hockey League last weekend. Selangor Hockey Association president S. Ganesh revealed he had appealed to the relevant authorities to fix the Petaling Jaya Hockey Stadium, which has not hosted a match in three years.

Even Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) president Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal lamented that the state government ignored hockey and other sports in favour of football.

In Selangor’s 2024 budget, RM19 million was allocated for sports, with RM10 million going to football.

Subahan even spoke to Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari about the lack of facilities in the country. Ganesh, a member of the Selangor’s sports council management board, also wrote to Amirudin but has not received a reply.

Isn’t it sad that a sport with better potential than football is left on the wayside?

The national team that finished runner-up in the Hockey 5s World Cup in February received a paltry RM80,000 reward from the government. Plans are already in place to prepare the team for the next World Cup in 2028.

However, there is no dedicated 5s stadium in the country. That is something else the government has to look into, besides fixing or upgrading existing stadiums.

Hopefully, hockey can get more prominence the next time those in power sit down to discuss budgets.

A TASTE OF THAILAND

If you have a craving for all things Thai, head to Central i-City in Shah Alam for its Sawasdee Thailand exhibition, until April 28.

There will be a Muay Thai Championship, a Muay Thai kids workshop, live music, cultural shows, delicious food, and much more.

There is also a Songkran Festival at 1Utama’s outdoor car park.

WALK WITH THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB

The National Press Club of Malaysia’s inaugural ‘Jom Jalan with NPC’ event is on Sunday, June 2, at Padang Merbok.

There are two main categories – a competitive 10km walk, and a 5km fun walk.

The competitive 10km walk will have four sub-categories – Open Men’s, Open Women’s, Boys’ and Girls’ (aged 13-17). The fun walk, meanwhile, is open to all.

Those interested in ‘Jom Jalan with NPC 2024’ can register via Race Roster or CheckPointSpot.

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