FORMER world No. 7 squash player Ong Beng Hee has represented Malaysia as a player for more than 20 years and served as national coach for two years. Now, as he prepares to leave for Qatar on Friday to assume the post of director of coaching, the 37-year-old speaks candidly to StarSport’s KNG ZHENG GUAN about the exodus of local coaching talent and the lack of coaching opportunities for former players at home.
StarSport: Having been a player for so many years, how did you end up being a coach with the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM)?
Beng Hee: It was during the 2014 Incheon Asian Games that SRAM president Huang Ying How told me about the lack of local coaches in the national set-up. Then, SRAM had four or five foreign coaches and no locals. I’ve always said that we need local coaches in the national set-up. If you look at the top squash-playing nations like Egypt, England, Hong Kong and Australia, they are mainly run by locals and with one or two foreign expertise. The president felt that it would be good for me to make the transition. I was also 34 at that time and I couldn’t see myself continuing as a player until the 2018 Asiad.
StarSport: Do you feel that local coaches can do a better job because they understand the culture more?
Beng Hee: I feel that we have been over-reliant on expats for too long and that’s bad. Don’t get me wrong, there are some who are very good. But if we do not give locals a chance, then what is the message we’re sending to the players? What are we telling the likes of Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan, Low Wee Wern or even Nicol David? Even Ying How had trouble convincing the National Sports Council (NSC) and the Podium Programme to give me a chance to prove myself as a coach. Even though I had two players – Ivan Yuen and S. Sivasangari – in the Podium Programme, I wasn’t part of the programme at all.
StarSport: Have you seen more locals being given opportunities in the last two years?
Beng Hee: With Mejar (Rtd) S. Maniam back as SRAM director, I think they’re beginning to realise that and are looking to make it right. Of course, it’s also up to the local coaches to prove that they can do the job. And if they don’t, then by all means replace them. But at the least give them a chance rather than hiring someone from Pakistan or Europe to work with say ... the junior players. If the local coaches are not good, then send them for the right trainings.
StarSport: What do you think is holding local coaches from joining the national set-up?
Beng Hee: Ultimately, it comes down to dollars and cents. Even if they are highly-qualified, our system doesn’t allow current or former players to explore the option of taking up coaching as a career. Like the foreign coaches, we need to put food on the table too. The only difference is that foreign coaches are paid way more than local coaches. So, why would a local coach join the national set-up if he is going to earn way less than a foreign coach? That’s the challenge we face.
StarSport: Do you think that the system is unkind towards former players?
Beng Hee: Honestly, I believe the system is terrible. I’ve worn the Malaysian shirt for more than 20 years, yet SRAM had to meet with NSC 13 times to get me a contract. Without the Yayasan Rakyat 1Malaysia (YR1M) chipping in to pay my salary, I probably wouldn’t have taken up this coaching job. I’m not being ungrateful or cynical, because I did get the job eventually. But I believe they need to allow more flexibility to people who have contributed for so many years ... at least at the grassroots level. We cannot rely too much on foreigners. It was fine 20 years ago. But are you saying that after 20 years we have learned nothing and are not capable of doing it ourselves?
StarSport: Can you see yourself returning to coach in Malaysia?
Beng Hee: Definitely. I’m still every bit a Malaysian and I hope the door is not closed to me here. The move to Qatar is a big step forward and it’s also an offer I couldn’t refuse, especially as I have two young daughters to think of. But, in five to 10 years, I’d definitely like to come home. I hope that by then the system here would have changed so as to allow those of us who have been overseas to come back and lead the way.