The sad and appalling state of local hockey umpiring

Background:

The column below was written by Santokh Singh, a former sports correspondent with The Straits Times, and now a news editor with The New Paper. The column lamented the state of local hockey umpiring and the personal anecdotes that he provided were a real eye-opener.

I was really disturbed not just by his examples of farcical umpiring but also of his description of the eagerness of older players to inimidate and injure upcoming younger players during league matches.

Subsequently, a long-time observer of local hockey wrote in to unveil even more ills about the local hockey scene.

Particulalry telling was his remark that previous Singapore Hockey Federation office -bearers could always be seen at local matches every weekend, and as such, could notice problems at the grassroots level and address them – unlike the current office-bearers who hardly seem to be around.

It just makes you wonder: if we can successfully co-host the Junior Hockey World Cup, then why are umpiring standards at local grassroots level so appallingly farcical?

Or does this reveal something about us? That we care only about succesfully pulling off big marquee events, but don’t bother about the state of things at ground level because there’s no glory to be found there?

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

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The column:

Don’t use tournaments as training ground for rookie umpires

(The New Paper, 7 Sept 2009)

By Santokh Singh

IT was with some interest that I read The Straits Times report on parents’ involvement with their children’s sports.

The report had coaches and teachers saying that some Singapore parents get too involved, to the point of confusing the kids with instructions from the sidelines that contradict the coaches or teachers.

Having watched my kids over the past decade, I have seen the best and the worst. And I have tried my best to stay out of my kids’ lives when they are on the field.

But I am beginning to wonder if that is the right approach.

Especially in a sport like hockey, where there is a risk of serious injury when the basic equipment, the hockey stick, can become a dangerous weapon in the hands of unscrupulous characters.

Characters who, in the name of the game, are out to maim rather than entertain.

It is one sport where umpires have to be fully equipped, not only with the rules of the game, but also the confidence to implement them. It is their duty to protect the players and ensure the beauty of the game is enjoyed by all, players and spectators alike.

My sons, now aged 16 and 15, have been fortunate to be trained by some really good coaches, some of whom have trained international teams. Both boys have come a long way in representing their club in the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) Leagues.

 And I had no complaints, or fears for their safety while playing, until recently.

 It started with rumblings on the standard of umpiring at schools’ matches.

 There was a claim that the umpires provided by the SHF for a crucial primary schools’ national match arrived more than an hour late and were not properly attired.

 While one of them blew the whistle in his school uniform (yes, a secondary school student umpired the match), the other, believed to be a more qualified umpire, did her job in a mufti blouse, skirt and slippers! Yes, slippers.

 As one school’s coach put it: ‘It just goes to show how seriously we are taking the game here. We are probably the only country in the world where this happens at an important schools’ national match.

 ‘I have seen umpires coming late so often and then taking a really light attitude, not focusing on the match and not willing to listen and learn.

 ‘Whatever the coaches and teachers teach is being undone on the pitch.’

 But what I witnessed at one of my son’s SHF League matches recently takes the cake.

One umpire was quite obviously a newcomer to the sport. It looked like he was umpiring his first game. And this was in a League match, where young 15-year-olds were up against experienced 30- to 40-year-olds, some of whom seemed hell bent on sending the youngsters to hospital.

Besides the verbal threats being dished out, the swinging of the sticks made my hair stand. And I was some 15m away, in the gallery. I genuinely feared for the kids.

Most of the time, the umpire at one end had to guide the other on the rules of the match, even stopping the game on several occasions to share pointers.

And when he awarded a penalty stroke, he was surprised to find out that his counterpart did not come over to assist him. He had to stop the penalty flicker, call over the umpire and tell him where to stand and what to look out for in the goalkeeper – absolutely appalling for an SHF-sanctioned match.

The comments from the coaches of both teams were telling.

‘It is an accident waiting to happen. I am glad you are here to see for yourself,’ said one.

Added the other cynically: ‘You should have been here yesterday. The umpire was pointing for free hits and penalty corners without blowing his whistle.’

When I asked the more experienced umpire for his views, he said more could be done but asked for some understanding.

‘He is new and learning,’ he said, ‘We all have to start somewhere.’

Okay, but please do not use our children as guinea pigs, especially not in experiments which involve their safety.

The clubs put in a lot of effort in training these players and they pay good money to the federation to enjoy their matches, not come away shivering in fear and not wanting to continue playing the game, as was the case with one of the boys in my son’s team.

Hockey will be the biggest loser if that happens.

************ 

The letter:

Hockey Federation should fix problem

(The New Paper, 19 Sept 2009)

I REFER to the article ‘Don’t use tournaments as training ground for rookie umpires’ by Mr Santokh Singh (The New Paper on Sunday, 6 Sep).

I feel vindicated by the article as I have in the past lamented the shortfall in competency of the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) umpires and the dangers that are posed to the players, especially the younger ones.

I have sounded the alarm at SHF annual general meetings (AGM) and also when I got the chance to share my thoughts with hockey officials. But my words seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Hopefully now, with the article, the SHF will pull up their socks and prevent players from getting injured.

At the last SHF AGM held in June 2009, it was reported that discipline on the field of play is under control. But there are numerous injuries that have gone unrecorded.

Speak to all the participating SHF League officials and coaches and you will know the real state of Singapore hockey.

There are team officials who have written to the SHF regarding the state of umpiring of their games and, instead of getting the umpiring committee to address the issues raised, the SHF seems to be saying that it will take a serious view of players’ behaviour towards umpires.

Unlike previous senior SHF office-bearers who made it a point, weekend after weekend, to be present at the games venues, the present office-bearers seem hardly to be seen.

If the office-bearers are present at the stadium, the problems will not go unnoticed.

I hope the SHF will take these views seriously and act to prevent any casualty in our hockey games.

FROM READER TENG KWANG SIANG 

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