Singapore to host biggest-ever World League hockey event
The biggest-ever Round 1 tournament to be staged at Sengkang next month
In January, the Sengkang Hockey Stadium hosted three of the world's best women's hockey sides - Holland, Australia and Germany - at the TPG International Tri-series as they began their quest for Olympic gold later this year.
Singapore continues to prove itself a hockey hub as the country now gears up to host the biggest-ever World League (WL) tournament Round 1 from April 9 to 17.
Singapore will host both the men's and women's tournaments at the same time - an 11-team men's competition and nine women's teams - at the two-pitch Sengkang Stadium next month.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) president Mathavan Devadas said: "There have been 16 teams hosted in one country in past WL Round 3 editions, but this will be the biggest-ever WL tournament anywhere in the world since it started in 2012."
The Republic's men and women will both be represented in the tournament where the top three men's sides, and the two best women's teams, will qualify for the next round.
Entrance to all WL Round 1 matches will be free.
"We have hosted two WL tournaments - one men's and one women's - in the past, and this time we've offered to host both together," said Mathavan.
"The International Hockey Federation (FIH) is familiar with the venue, our organisational capabilities and the track record that we have in previous tournaments," Mathavan added, acknowledging the challenges the SHF will face to pull it off.
"The biggest challenge so far is attracting volunteers. There will be two matches at a time, with as many as nine games played a day and, to manage that, we'll need technical officials, managers and even volunteers to do field patrol," he revealed.
"We have already approached polytechnics who will be having their school break then."
With teams expected to arrive from April 6, they could expect to stay in Singapore for up to 12 days.
With some countries choosing cheaper accommodation instead of recommended team hotels, logistics is another issue the SHF is grappling with.
"The cost of accommodation in Singapore is comparatively higher than in some countries, and Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand have chosen to stay in dormitories instead," said Mathavan.
"Because of that, we're still working out the logistics of it all, especially transport arrangements."
Only a total of eight teams played in the men's and women's South-east Asia Games hockey tournament hosted in Singapore last year.
While Singapore has already proven its ability to stage international tournaments, the smooth hosting of the hockey tournament could well open the door to even bigger events in the future.
"The Sengkang Stadium is a legacy item from the 2010 Youth Olympic Games and, with the two international-grade pitches there, it has proven to be a very good venue for international events," said Mathavan.
"And yes, we do have a good chance of hosting bigger tournaments some time in the future."
Hosts aim to qualify for round 2
Singapore's hockey men captured the imagination of the fraternity when they forced regional giants Malaysia to a penalty shoot-out before losing an exciting South-east Asia (SEA) Games final at the Sengkang Hockey Stadium last year.
Despite losing one third of that 18-man silver medal-winning squad, Solomon Casoojee's side have been tasked to finish within the top three of the World League Round 1 tournament, which Singapore will host from April 9 to 17.
The top three teams in the 11-team men's tournament will qualify for the next round, while only the top two of the nine-country women's competition that will play at the same time, advance to Round 2.
The Republic's women, who are SEA Games bronze medallists, also face the target of qualifying for Round 2.
"I've told the (respective) coaches that the plan is to be ready to do our best at the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia. After last year's Games, both teams have lost players to retirement and other reasons and are in the rebuilding phase now," said Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) president Mathavan Devadas.
"But our wish is for both the men and women to qualify for WL Round 2," he added.
China's men's team, 19th in the International Hockey Federation (FIH) world standings, will be the top-seeded team here next month, with hosts Singapore a distant second in 38th spot.
With four unranked sides - Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam and Brunei - and Sri Lanka (42nd) the only other team in the top 50, Mathavan believes the men stand a good chance.
The Singapore women are seeded fourth in the tournament behind Kazakhstan, Thailand and Hong Kong.
While Casoojee has not been pleased with the training sessions in the lead-up to the tournament, he insists his men are good enough to get the job done, even though six members of his SEA Games squad - Nur Ashriq Ferdaus, Saifulnizam Seftu, Farhan Kamsani, Karleef Abdullah, Johnson Sivalingam and Baqir Asali - will not play.
"The key again is consistency in execution and that comes with consistency in training. Of course, with issues over work, National Service and school, we haven't had that," he told The New Paper, revealing that several youngsters will be brought in as replacements.
"With the haze hitting us badly in the October to December period, we haven't been able to get much training done during what was the foundation phase.
"But this is a group that has all the talent and ability to do well, and in all likelihood will."
(World rankings in brackets)
Hong Kong (52)
Sri Lanka (42)
(World rankings in brackets)
Sri Lanka (45)
Hong Kong (39)
● Tournament starts on April 9 with the Singapore women in action against Uzbekistan (5.30pm) and their male counterparts taking on Vietnam in the day's final match (8pm). Entrance to all matches is free.
WORLD LEAGUE EXPLAINED:
Launched in 2012 and played once every two years, the World League acts as another avenue for nations to make the 2018 FIH Hockey World Cup, besides qualifying as continental champions and event hosts.
World ranking points are also at stake.
The competition will be played over four rounds, with the first round featuring teams ranked 20th and below in the FIH World Rankings (dependent on number of entrants), with the top three men's teams and top two women's sides from the tournament qualifying for Round 2.
Qualifiers will join higher-ranked teams in Round 2 to form a 24-team tournament played in three events of eight teams each.
The top teams there qualify for Round 3 - the semi-finals.
Qualifiers will join teams ranked 1st to 11th in the FIH world rankings in a 20-team tournament played in two events of 10 teams each. Round 4 - the finals - will feature eight teams in what will effectively be a mini-World Cup.