A backward move, SHF

Singapore players, who competed in the Premier League in the ’70s

Hockey's Premier League has been put to sleep.

And the people euthanising what was once the most popular local hockey league are the sport's administrators themselves.

Is it a case of amnesia on the part of the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF) officials?

Or are they too young to recognise how "premier" that league was once.

In the '60s to the '80s, the Premier League was hockey's "sacred" event.

The "Border Clash" - a label hammered home whenever the Indian Association played Ceylon Sports Club (CSC) - was a memorable fixture that drew crowds by the thousands.

The "Padang Showdown" - a tag that attracted overflowing interest whenever Singapore Recreation Club met Singapore Cricket Club - was always one for the fan's diary.

Premier League hockey then was so alive that clubs were knocking on doors to enter the elite competition.

As a Premier League player for CSC and the Indian Association in the 70s, I experienced first-hand the keen rivalry and fanfare of yesteryear.

It is why I bemoan the current SHF move to bury the Premier League.

Okay, changes are inevitable in a fast-changing world. But when you wipe out a slice of history with one sweeping move, it is mockery.

You may argue that it is only a cosmetic name change: to the National Hockey League 1.

But the circumstances leading to this regressive step and the new requirements - or non-requirements - worry me. In fact, two main changes are of great concern.

First, the move to make no requirement for players to pass the mandatory fitness test (Beep Test).

With the changes, the onus on fitness has been placed on the clubs. That could pave the way for clubs to field players who may not be fit or are past their prime.

SOCIAL OUTINGS

This could turn the "premier" league into outings for social hockey players.

It is ironic that in the same week that the Football Association of Singapore is considering a fitness test for National Football League (NFL) players, hockey is heading in the opposite direction.

Second, now there is no requirement for hockey clubs to have junior development teams.

It's mind-boggling.

With little talent development, it will only mean more over-aged players turning out for the elite event.

The SHF says it is making these changes mainly because the Premier League has seen a falling number of teams, made worse by falling attendances.

From 10 to 12 teams in the heyday, the competition attracted seven teams in 2012 and only six last year.

And it is baffling that Police Sports Association and CSC - two clubs who were major powers in the '60s and '70s - seem set to drop out this year.

Against such a bleak backdrop, it is good on SHF to include teams like Hollandse Club, who field expatriate players, in the league.

However, the focus should be on young talent, fit players and a production machine that churns out promising Singaporeans for the national team.

The SHF will keep a close watch on the impact of the changes and do a review if necessary.

If you have to do that, do it fast SHF.


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