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Editorial: Teams unfair to the Azlan Shah Organize (5/7/2011)
--K. Arumugam
Teams unfair to the Azlan Shah Organizers

Competitions are lifelines of sport. Tournaments, such as ongoing Azlan Shah Cup, sustain interest of hockey in both short and long term perspectives. People remember and relish sports only during competitions.

Team preparation, target tournaments, selection hassles, and such stuff are there in the news, that lead up to tournament, but nothing like tournament proper.

undefined Over years, totally unprofessional sports that hockey is, there has been a tendency, which has become a habit nowadays, to use the multi-nation tournaments as a trial events for some other targets like Olympics or World Cup.

A few mild exceptions apart, hockey has nothing to offer to interested public, getting over-shadowed even in multi-discipline summits such as Olympics and Continental Games.

Bilateral series used to be main thirst quencher for many years, this genre has almost died due to many factors the primary of which being the coaches’ overreach, over-enthusiasm and overkill to try and test players.

undefined This tunnel vision of coaches and Federation has nearly killed international tournaments. In the past there used to be so many of them – Ahmadabad International, Bombay International, Indira Gandhi Gold Cup etc, etc to quote Indian example. And then you had Humburg Festival of 70s, Warsaw Internationals, Lyon International etc etc.

Where are they now? These all died for want of motivation and purpose.

If an organizer spends a fortune to stage a wonderful tournament, their interest goes for a toss once they come to know some X or Y country is bringing C or D teams. Even the winners of such competitions do not get accolades which they otherwise deserve. Coaches have killed hockey in the name of experimentation and preparation.

For instance, Indira Gandhi International Cup (1987 to 1996) held annually in India died not for want of money or support, but essentially because of the inability of the organizers to get strong teams.

In the whole world, there is only an annual international tournament, that is, the ongoing Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. A huge money is spent to stage the event. True, teams come on their expense, they have some right to use the situation to their advantage, but the liberty has crossed the limits.

The present Azlan Shah Cup team composition worries me. Australia and Korea in particular have brought almost their second string teams. Not left behind is New Zealand and India (though two senior players are injured, another two opted out).

undefined The problem in larger perspective is like this. Out of the 126 players here, hardly 8 have caps more than 200.

About 50 players, which is almost 40 percent have played less than 50 matches, in fact 80 percent out of them are within 20 caps.

8 players are playing their first international which is almost one per team not a cause for concern.

What of course is the cause for concern, is two third of Australia and Korean players have caps below 50, meaning their team is essentially second string.

With 2 debutants and 3 below century caps, Australia’s is a perfect case of second string; they did so last year as well.

Korea has 11 players below 50 caps, while it is 8 for New Zealand and 7 for India.

Pakistan, Malaysia and Great Britain are perfect senior teams in terms of players international appearance record, four Pakistan player having caps above 200, two even more than 300 (Sohail and Waseem). Ten players from Great Britain have caps between 100 and 200.

Qualitatively also, these three teams have almost brought established stars.

It is really unethical to bring second string teams for major competition which robs of its charm and steals the very purpose for which the organizers spend a huge fortune.

If there is a guarantee that senior teams will come on invitation, hockey will have many more Azlan Shahs. But unfortunately, teams like Australia and Korea even undermine this, sorry to say this.

The big picture is that hockey has to shed the Olympic-Wrold Cup centric mindset, try to cater to other needs, a best would be to have more and more tournaments, certainly not spoiling the exisiting competitions, as some teams are habitually intend to.

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