Jacqueline Raphael, email@example.com
MIRI: For Miri hockey players who have won numerous domestic and regional championships, a proper playing pitch would have been just reward for their outstanding record but so far, such a facility has remained a pipe dream.
The players have made their mark and one of them, Linda Liwek, even played for the national side in a friendly match against India in Kuala Lumpur in 2014.
“Many of our players are very good despite not having proper hockey turf to practise and compete on,” said Rudy Naziri who has been coaching the Miri hockey team since 1995.
The 46-year-old said the team had been sent for competitions outside Miri where they got to play on a “real hockey pitch,” adding that the players learned to handle a fast-paced modern pitch from the exposure.
He pointed out that at home, the team practised on concrete and their hockey sticks wore out really fast.
“It’s quite expensive having to regularly replace their hockey sticks, costing RM70 to RM80 each.”
Rudy said there were also safety issues such as players getting hurt when they fell on the hard surface. According to him, they were promised a proper hockey pitch after the previous one was scrapped in the 90’s to give way to development but nothing has happened to date.
The site of the old pitch is now a bustling commercial centre.
“Our players are doing okay but with proper facilities, they can definitely do better. We have many talented young players and I’m proud to say several are being absorbed into the state Sukma side. They include siblings Andison Sigat and Benny Sigat, Abang Mohamad Saiful, Hamdani Abdullah, Anderson Paul, Shelly Bayang, Janetar Kadir, Laura King and Linda Liwek.”
In 2000, Rudy was recruited by the State Sports Council (MSNS) as the hockey coach for Miri. He then started training the girls’ junior team.
Small concrete pitches
The Miri hockey team, managed by Warrior Hockey Club, headed by Rudy, relies solely on concrete pitches, not to mention tennis and basketball courts, for practice and these small playing areas can only be used for 3-a-side or 5-a-side games. Fully functional hockey pitches and facilities in Sarawak are only available in Kuching and located at SMK Paku, Petra Jaya Hockey Stadium, and the Padungan Hockey Stadium.
In Miri, players depend on the concrete pitches at the Women Hockey Development Centre, Kolej Tun Datu Tuanku Haji Bujang, and SMK St Columba. Both schools were chosen as MSN training centres in 2000 and 2013 respectively. Their facilities are also used to hold hockey tournaments.
The Miri junior team is now using the pitch at SMK St Columba for practice, and Rudy is thankful for the support of the school management.
“SMK St Columba has been very supportive. Many our players are from the school. I must also mention one of the teachers, Mohamad Affendi Panglima, who has been helping me with the junior players,” he said.
Rudy noted that Miri’s junior hockey teams had been winning tournaments outside Sarawak despite the absence of proper facilities.
“One way to improve is by competing against teams from outside. At least, the players can have a ‘feel’ of playing on Astro Turf.
“Very often, they not only benefited from the experience but also brought home medals. I’m very proud of them.”
He said in 2015, Miri won the Girls’ Under-16 hockey tournament, organised by SMK Weston Sabah, and finished runners-up in the Under-14 category.
“It’s amazing to see our players from a city without a proper hockey field winning a tournament – or even finishing second. It goes to show our players are talented and have good fighting spirit.”
In March this year, Warrior Hockey Club emerged champion in Pesta Samarahan hockey tournament held in Kuching. In 2014, the Club bagged the Under-23 title of Kuching Fest Hockey Tournament.
Rudy said he had lost count of how many times the players have made Miri proud.
Long overdue promise
According to him, the promise of a new hockey pitch for Miri is long overdue and it’s high time the players are rewarded with an international standard hockey facility to train and compete on.
“With a proper hockey pitch, the players will be motivated to do better and might even end up playing for the national team. Without a proper pitch, everything is likely to stagnate, including their talents.
“Now that Miri is a city, I think a proper hockey pitch should be a basic sports facility here, given Mirians’ prowess in the game. If we have proper facilities, we can also organise tournaments that can attract outside teams.
“This can be turned into a big event to boost sports tourism in the city like the annual yachting competition. It’s also good for the local economy,” he said.
On a related development, Rudy said efforts were underway to set up the Miri Hockey Association. Presently, all the activities are carried out under the Warrior Hockey Club.
“We know as a club, our voice is very small, so we are in the midst of setting up an association to take care of the game and welfare of our players,” he said.
“We are facing problems, especially financial, every time we want to send teams to play outside Miri. It’s very hard find sponsors, and we frequently have to fork out from our own pockets.”
Rudy said it would also be easier to train new referees through an association.
“We have been having the same referees for many years now. We are all getting older and we hope to scout for new referees by organising workshops. It will be easier to do all these if we have an association.”
The old Miri Hockey Association was active in the 1980’s and early 90’s but slipped into the doldrums in the late 90’s.
“For the present, our activities are restricted by the lack of facilities, particularly a proper hockey pitch. All our matches are now played on concrete.
“A standard hockey pitch is vital for the development of the game but constructing a pitch for 11-a-side matches can be quite expensive. Previously, it cost about RM4 million to RM5 million but it’s definitely higher now. We may have to import the best quality grass or turf from Australia,” he noted.
Rudy said it would be impossible for Miri to host any state or national level hockey tournament without a proper hockey pitch.
“I really hope to see a new hockey pitch in Miri soon – not for myself, but for our hockey players. With this facility in place, our teams can definitely soar higher,” he added.