Putrajaya has been urged to consider giving incentives for sports other than football following the prime minister’s statement that the government is considering awarding the Harimau Malaya team for their recent success in qualifying for the Asian Cup tournament.
Former national hockey player I Vikneswaran said he personally welcomed the news of possible incentives for the national football squad as it showed the government’s appreciation of sports.
“Rewarding the football team for qualifying for the Asian Cup is something positive,” he said.
“But he could also think further about encouraging other sports as well.”
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on June 16 that he would hold discussions with the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) before deciding on the type of incentive to be given to the Harimau Malaya team.
He said he needed to speak with FAM as the hockey team had also qualified for the World Cup and should likewise be considered for the award of incentives.
The Harimau Malaya squad had beaten Bangladesh 4-1, qualifying for the Asian Cup for the first time in 42 years.
Vikneswaran, who owns the Kuala Lumpur Hockey Club, said Malaysia’s hockey team was among the best in Asia as well as in the global arena.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he cited their recent success in nabbing second place in the Asian Cup after losing to South Korea.
“That team was the best team in Asia, but we were unfortunate to lose,” he said.
“It was like the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool. Liverpool was the better team but they lost.”
Known by their nickname of The Speedy Tigers, the national hockey team had also managed to book a spot in the 2023 World Cup.
According to the World Hockey Federation website, the Malaysian hockey team is the 11th best squad in the world.
Malaysian football, meanwhile, is ranked 154th globally.
Some internet users had questioned the government’s limelight on football, saying other sports have more potential.
Loo Kum Zee, a former national high jump athlete, said the incentives were a positive development as the players needed motivation and encouragement to continue their efforts at the Asian level.
But while football might be the more popular sport, he said, encouragement should also be given to other athletes.
“Of course the government, when it announces this, should be sensitive and consider it from all angles,” he said.
“Every athlete sacrifices their time and their family because they want to play sports.”
Loo, who was a gold medalist in the high jump event at the 1995 to 2003 SEA Games and was declared the Perak Athlete of the Year in 1996, said the sports minister plays a key role in this matter.
“He is the only one who can trigger people to really put focus on every sport and give equal treatment,” he said. “He is very important.”
The government aside, Loo said, sports associations should also work to popularise their respective fields and seek out sponsorships.
Vikneswaran agreed. While coverage and support for football is well established, he said, change is needed to rally sustained support for other sports as well.
“The entire ecology, not just the government but the corporate sector, the people, the stakeholders, the people who pick up a hockey stick and play – everyone must work on this.
“If everybody does this, there is no way that support will be lacking,” he said.
He said educational institutions could also provide scholarships to deserving athletes in addition to shining the spotlight on players even at the school level.
Compared to football, Vikneswaran said, hockey does not receive sufficient allocations especially at the state government level.
“At the state associations level, football is very privileged,” he said. “State governments give a lot to focus on football teams. They have a huge budget.
“Hockey doesn’t even get 5% of what is spent on football. If we get 5%, we can do way better in this sport.”