After the national hockey team's fiasco in the Olympic qualifiers, the sport appears headed for a downward spiral. This must be a dilemma for the National Sports Council (NSC), who have supported the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) through thick and thin. NSC director general Datuk Wira Mazlan Ahmad, who returned from Madrid disappointed but not disillusioned, tells Starsport's S. RAMAGURU about NSC’s aspirations for hockey.
Starsport: The failure of the national hockey team in Madrid is a big blow to the development of the game. What is your immediate concern and what future do you see for the game.
Mazlan: The failure in Madrid will set us back a few years. Before the qualifiers I felt that the team could qualify for Athens. Now it looks like a bleak future for hockey. We need to find a solution fast. This is one sport where we have regularly competed at the top-level. Let us get back to that level.
Starsport: Tell us about what you saw in Madrid and why Malaysia failed in the qualifiers.
Mazlan: Inexperience, poor skills, injuries, overly defensive minded and most importantly, the lack of a good forward line, are some of the weaknesses of the team. The players were not ready for top-level competition, as they did not know what was required of them.
We lacked forward players who can hold the ball in the mould of Mirnawan Nawawi and Chairil Anwar. The team used the aerial ball to get out of defence but the ball comes back faster and had our defence under pressure often.
Whether it was the coach, the players or the overall structure of the team that caused our failure, I would not be able to provide answers. I do see some good players in the team and concerted efforts by all must be made to improve the team.
Starsport: Was the MHF right in their initial decision to disband the team (after the Madrid qualifiers)? It is no secret that many of the MHF top officials want German coach Paul Lissek out of the team. They claimed that Lissek had a negative effect on the team.
Mazlan: It was a joke to disband the team. But then, as we know, they have rescinded that decision. The immediate concern is to review or revamp our national team's programme. Where are they going to get new players for the new team? Maybe promote the entire national junior team?
We must find out what are the weaknesses of the team and set out to rectify them. The players are young and for me the first agenda is to ensure the players stay with the team.
Players should be sent on attachments to other countries. Let us not have a narrow mind-set. We have to learn from others to improve.
As for Lissek, the decision has already been made. He came here with a good track record and is still regarded as one of the best coaches in the world.
There were no complaints when he took the team to a silver medal in the 1998 Commonwealth Games and the bronze medal in Asian Games in Busan in 2002.
Suddenly, they blame Lissek for Malaysia's failure. And now the call is for a local coach to take over.
But a new coach cannot do much if the players are not up to the mark. Lissek has made inroads with our juniors and you can see many of the youngsters are already playing at the senior level. They may lack the experience but given time, they will be good enough.
The MHF management committee don't want him and it is fine with NSC as we have a job for him to do in developing the game in schools and also the Tunas Cemerlang programme. He will also run courses for the school teachers.
Starsport: Many say poor development programmes or the lack of one is the problem hockey is facing. What do you think?
Mazlan: Development of a sport is a vast subject and has many levels. National junior and senior levels, state, schools and clubs levels. Then you have the coaching development besides the need to scout for talents.
There has been a lot of talk in the MHF about this development programme and that programme. But yet today what they are saying is that there is no definite programme in place. They cannot just claim the sports schools as part of their programmes.
Just tell me what kind of a system do they have in place to develop the kids. Any common structure for the states to follow which is in line with the national structure? Any coordinated effort to tie all this so called programmes together? Nothing. Everything is done on an ad-hoc basis.
I'm not talking about the last one or two years but about the last 10 years. Where are the coaches who are supposed to teach the kids the basics at the grassroots levels?
Why is it that the national coaches have to teach the basics to players during national training when they should be teaching other things?
Starsport: The MHF need the funding from the NSC for the national senior and junior teams' development. Yet there are accusations that the NSC, or you to be specific, is usurping the powers of the MHF. Some even resent statements made by the NSC on hockey.
Mazlan: That does not bother me. If the MHF does not want our help then they can go their own way. I know some officials are bad-mouthing the NSC and me. But at the same time they want the money from the NSC, as they cannot get it elsewhere.
I have a clear idea on what we want to do and how to do it. The MHF can work with us and make this a national effort. But I will understand if they want to go it alone. It is their right to do what they want. Why should we stop them? We will be supportive of their plans.
Since Madrid the MHF have yet to initiate any meetings with us to discuss the national team's future. Yet they claim that we have stopped funding the national team.
Starsport: What do you suggest should be done to rebuild the national team?
Mazlan: For a start, the national team must play in the two tournaments they have been entered for in Australia. It is a rare and valuable opportunity to play against teams like Australia, India and South Africa. The NSC have promised the funding for the two tournaments.
As for getting a coach for the team, there's Yahya Atan and A. Arulselvaraj available. But a permanent coach is needed, be it a foreigner or a local. NSC cannot afford to hire another foreign coach, as there are already three full-time hockey coaches under our payroll. But if MHF can get a foreigner, by all means, go ahead.
I have been very frank in this interview as I want to see Malaysia become a major hockey force again. I do not wish to tell MHF what to do. They must face the fact that there are shortcomings and they must rectify them.