Friday, October 30, 2015

Schools the graveyard of sports?


Level Field

 (H) Schools the graveyard of sports?

It is sad that efforts are not being made to get schoolchildren to watch notable ex-internationals in action whenever they compete in tournaments.
It is already disheartening that the children of this era hardly know about our ex-internationals of various sports who were household names.
The 2015 Grand Masters Hockey Asia Cup tournament is being held at the Pantai Hockey Stadium and ends on Sunday.
The biennial affair is hosted by the Sultan Ahmad Shah Veteran Hockey Association, involves players aged 60 and has defending champion Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Malaysia competing.
Besides this tournament, the 29th Pacific Rim International Masters Hockey involving six teams — Australia A and B, Scotland, England, Europe-based team Alliance International Hockey Club and newcomers Egypt — is going on in the adjacent pitch that belongs to the Ministry of Education.
Among the notable players in action are 1975 World Cup players Datuk Poon Fook Loke, R. Pathmarajah and M. Mahendran, others like Avtar Singh Gill, Awtar Singh Grewal, Kali Kavandan and N. Dharmasegaran, to name but a few, and top former nationals from other countries.
What a treat it would be for schoolchildren to watch these icons in action. They may be slower but their skills and game tactics are still a delight to watch.
Other than the families of the competing team members, there have been few spectators at the stadium since the tournament began on Tuesday.
Even more discouraging is the fact that the tournament does not have any ‘ball boys’.
For a tournament sanctioned by the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC) and FIH to have overlooked ball boys, especially since it is a veteran’s tournament, is indeed baffling.
To see the veterans having to pick up the balls was a sad sight. The organisers could have got children from the nearby schools who play hockey or even state or national junior players to come on board as ball boys.
Or they could have invited students from Universiti Malaya or the Language Institute, which is just a stone’s throw from the venue.
Not only would watching some vintage hockey be exciting for the young people but they could learn a thing or two from these senior and vastly experienced players. Mingling with these icons would do wonders for these youngsters.
Talking about schools, I remember universities being regarded as the ‘graveyard of sports’ those days.
But today, sports has become an integral part of the university system. There are inter-university games, inter-college and higher learning institution games and inter-university leagues for football, hockey, squash and bowling, among others.
University students also compete in the Asean and World Universities Games and many of our national athletes are products of the universities.
Sadly, schools, which were the nursery for sports in the country, are slowly but surely losing their relevance.
Yes, we have national sports schools and sports excellence schools in the various states while the Ministry of Education has leagues for football and some other sports. True, the Malaysian Schools Sports Council has programmes for 24 sports for Under-12, Under-15 and Under-18. However, these only benefit a select group of students.
Efforts have to be made to build a bigger base and to cater for late bloomers, and this can only be achieved through mass participation at national schools, something that is slowly disappearing.
Even the 1 student 1 sport programme has its shortcomings with students not allowed to participate in the sport of their choice. Or there is no qualified teacher to groom them and the hours dedicated to sports activity are limited.
Gone are the days when we had inter-class and inter-house games before the school team was selected for various sports. The school athletics and swimming meets were grand affairs.
Teachers, who were a dedicated lot, played a key role in the development of sports in schools.
Without any discrimination intended, today, almost 70% of school teachers are women and expecting them to chart the future of Malaysian sports is probably asking for the impossible.
This is where the ex-internationals come in. Ex-international associations for the various sports and even the association for Olympians could get in touch with the Ministry of Education or the Malaysian Schools Sports Council to offer their services instead of just being interested in organising overseas trips and playing friendly matches.
Of course, these ex-internationals need to be remunerated for their time and effort.
National and state sports associations should get ex-internationals on board and involve them in various capacity – from officials to coaches at grassroots level.
Another key point that needs mentioning are the school fields. Most of them, especially in the cities, have been reduced to mere plots, no thanks to development. Some schools don’t even have a field or the one they have is in a pathetic state.
A concerted effort has to be made to resolve the sports woes of schools, especially in terms of facilities, but more importantly, the facilities have to be fully utilised.
So, before it is too late and we lose a generation of icons without having tapped their vast experience and talent, let’s quickly engage them.

TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
local sports.
He can be reached at
Twitter: @tmariadass​​

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