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A Sultan's legacy

Publication Date : 30-05-2014

 

He was the consummate hockey man – a player for his state, a national selector who was behind the rise of some of the greatest names to have graced our hockey fields and, finally, the president of the Malaysian Hockey Federation for close to three decades.

Sultan Azlan Shah was indeed the father of Malaysian hockey, the man behind the sport in the country for as long as anyone can remember. But it wasn’t just the love for the game on the pitch that set him apart from everyone else. It was the fact that he cared for the sportsmen (and women), the athletes.

It was he who was behind the setting up of Yayasan Hockey – a scholarship fund for talented hockey players – in 1990. He was also instrumental in the setting up of a players’ retirement fund.

Under his watch, hockey players were not just a motley crew chasing a ball with a stick. They were doctors, degree holders, highly qualified professionals, CEOs even. His hockey set-up saw to it that the players would always have a successful career when they left the game.

His successor as president of Malaysian hockey – it’s called the Malaysian Hockey Confederation now – is set to leave the game. The president is Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, the man who has just been elected as leader of the Football Association of Malaysia.

Tengku Abdullah, however, has his work cut out for him as head of Malaysian football. Detractors may question his record – after all, he has been deputy president for years. However, we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, the outgoing president was the Sultan of Pahang – his father – so it must have been tough trying to tell his father how things should be done.

Now that he is his own man and president, let’s see what he can do.

Tengku Abdullah is an avid football fan and was a good player as well. He has asked for four years and deserves at least as much.

He has to chart a future for the football team that has fallen to new depths. But there’s a lesson he has to bring for the late Sultan Azlan Shah, too. He must not forget the past. And those who have served the country

Just last Sunday, I was in Malacca, as a ­veteran’s football team from Penang took on a team in Malacca. And there, among my many friends from Penang, was one famous son of the state.

He is much older now but he has lost little of his silky skills and that left leg still bamboozles opponents. However, for all his ability and achievement on the pitch, he is a technician with a sub­sidiary company of the Penang Development Corporation. In other words, a worker for a contractor of sorts. But he isn’t the type to complain. He’s fine as long as he can play football.

But there are many others who are worse off. Their only skill was their sport. After retirement, they face bleak futures.

There is no retirement fund, no move into management or coaching, no help forthcoming from the governing bodies. Many go through life as little more than office boys, or despatch clerks.

It’s sad. As Tengku Abdullah took office, another famous star who has played with Rukkumaran, “Towkay” Soh Chin Aun, said it was time for FAM to look into using the expertise of former football stars to groom the teams of the future.

He spoke of Michel Platini (UEFA president), Kunishige Kamamoto (vice-chairman of Japan FA), Kuniya Daini (Japan FA president) and Kim Jae-han (vice-president of Korean FA), who have all been great players and gone on to help develop teams.

Of course, there’s the great “Kaizer” Franz Beckenbauer, one of only two men ever to have lifted the football World Cup as player and manager.

Malaysian football, however, is run largely by politicians. It’s not just football. It’s a problem in all sports.

Just over a week ago, former badminton star Wong Choong Hann – he was national No.1 when Lee Chong Wei was No.3 – wrote of the stark reality that comes after retirement.

“Not all athletes successfully make that transition from sport to retirement. There seems to be a lack of proper direction and transition plans for athletes to fall back on after they call it a day,” he said.

“A few things may have improved since I left but I believe we need something more concrete for our athletes when they retire.”

His suggestion? “Athletes should also enjoy medical and insurance benefits even after they stop serving the nation.”

There’s something Tengku Abdullah could think about. The retired players could be used as coaches in schools – the day of the sportsman-teacher are long gone – or at district level. The bigger stars could also be roped in to administer the states, and even lend a hand at FAM.

As for us, well, me and my buddies are starting our very own informal junior football academy in Penang. With “Rocky” Rukkumaran as coach and ­talent scout, of course.

 

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