Friday, March 27, 2015

No short cuts, please


Level Field  

News of Malaysian rugby player Dinesvaran Krishnan’s outstanding second year with Japanese professional team Yamaha Jubilo is music to the ears, especially when there is talk here about naturalising football players and hockey development programmes have failed to unearth even one Chinese or Indian player to represent the nation in the 2016 Junior World Cup.

Dinesvaran, who hails from Sungei Petani, Kedah, goes by the name 'Duke' in Japan as it’s easier for his teammates to pronounce, and his 1.95m, 120kg built has earned him the nickname 'the Malaysian Jonah Lomu'.
It was the Cobra rugby club in Petaling Jaya that nurtured his skills and the 26-year-old's determination to become a professional player saw him make the cut.
Marc Le was the first Malaysian to play on foreign soil, having played for Marist St Pats in New Zealand, and after Duke, it was another Cobra player, Perlis’ Mohd Amin Jamaluddin, nicknamed ‘Bonzer’, who left early this year to play for Harbour Rugby Club in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Now if a sport like rugby, which is still crying for support in Malaysia, can produce and have its players plying their trade in professional leagues overseas, why can’t popular sports like football, hockey, badminton, athletics and sepak takraw, among others, produce players of calibre? We have coaches who say Malaysian athletes are not built for European challenges but if Malaysians are standing tall in rugby, then something is drastically wrong down the line.
Football even had many players going on attachments overseas, only to return home complaining of communication and food problems, and difficulty in adapting to the local culture, climate and professional regime.
Basically, it all boils down to proper, well-executed development programmes and discipline and goals of the athletes themselves.
1MAS Hockey, which has a budget of RM1.2 million for four years, is two years old but it is only utilising 17 of the 45 artificial turf fields in the country as its centres and none is in Chinese or Tamil schools or in the outskirts.
Is it a surprise then that we cannot find any Chinese or Indian players? What about players in Sabah and Sarawak? Have we cast our nets wide enough?
Most of 1MAS Hockey's centres are in the towns but we cannot expect children to travel daily to these after school. We have to go to the children wherever they are.
Then we hear that the Malaysian Schools Sports Council's (MSSM) budget for this year has been cut and that the majority of sports events at both state and national levels could be held on a carnival basis (over a day or two).
So, how can we nurture talent and expose it to a competitive environment or urge students to take up sport?
Until and when we address the woes of schools and the grassroots, including diminishing fields, and the problems in the various development programmes, Malaysian sports is at a dead end.
Coming back to Duke, it would be good if the sports administrators looked at Cobra and the Sandakan Rugby Club (SRC) (formerly known as Sandakan Eagles Rugby Club) to learn their development methods and foreign player policy.
Cobra, the brainchild of former president Tan Sri Krishnan Tan, and SRC, which is headed by Vela Tan, are prime examples of passion, determination, wanting to give back to the game and above all, emphasising development on a large scale and professional level.
These clubs too engage foreign players - from Fiji, a nation that is passionate about rugby and from where players can be acquired at affordable prices. Cobra has been engaging Fijians since 1999.
Negri Sembilan Wanders is another club that recruits Fijians.
These men not only play for the clubs but are also part and parcel of the development programme, which includes going to the schools to coach.
And that is how Duke's talent was discovered.
He started playing when he was 13 but a few months later, he moved to another school that did not have rugby. He was working in a legal office when he met up with the boys at the Cobra rugby club. Soon, he was working at the club's bar, joined the club’s development programme and soon he was called up to play for Malaysia's under-19 team.
His interaction with the Fijian players both on and off the field soon saw him not only speaking like a Fijian but also playing like one. Like them, he frequented the gym to build his body and his passion for the game grew.
Determined to be a professional rugby player, Duke has since played seven test matches for his Malaysia.
Duke is back in the country on holiday and will be training with the national team next month for the Asian Rugby championship to be hosted by Malaysia at the MPPJ Stadium in May.
When it comes to naturalisation of players, rugby has done it the right way - the players have to not only represent their clubs but also help in the development of the sport and become part and parcel of the rugby system before being considered for citizenship.
Three Fijians were named in the Malaysian rugby sevens team for the Hong Kong 7s in 2011. Their inclusion was an historical event because it was the first time Malaysia called up imported players for international duty.
The three had met the mandatory requirement of the World Rugby of having played for Malaysia for over three seasons.
The three were Cobra club veterans Kini Rasolosolo and Isoa Vuluma Turuva, who play for the Vuda Rugby Club in the Lautoka competition, and Timoci Nacokula of Sabeto, Nadi. Nacokula played for the ASAS Rugby Club in Kuala Lumpur.
Rugby in Malaysia emerged out of the woods after a decade-long slump and part of this resurgence was attributed to the presence of Fijian players in the local competition.
Still, let us not take the easy way out. We must search every inch of the country for sports talent and nurture it the right way. And if we still need to consider naturalising players, let us go about it in the most effective manner and not bring in any Tom, Dick or Harry.
TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
local sports.
He can be reached at

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