Boys pay for cock-up

A line has been drawn in the sand.

They did not perform up to their own standards at the Asian Games hockey qualifiers in Bangladesh last month and, while the men's national team may have qualified for the 2014 Asian Games by finishing fourth at the tournament, they did not pass muster with the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), who did not include them in the final list for the continent's biggest sports competition.

After analysing what went on in Bangladesh, Solomon Casoojee's charges have taken responsibility for their performance and want to set things right.

The team have implemented stricter targets and adopted a number of rules, before the men travel to play Asia's sixth-ranked side, Oman - on May 17 and 18 - in a bid to prove to the SNOC that they are worthy of a ticket to Incheon in September.

And the players will foot most of the expenses for the trip themselves.

"With my hand on my heart, I can't say that we've delivered 100 per cent. We've cost ourselves by being unfit and sloppy without many valid reasons," Casoojee told The New Paper.

"This (move) is us saying we can be better, raising the bar and asking more of ourselves, and being held accountable."

Casoojee will pay $8,000 out of his own pocket, with $14,000 coming from Singapore's 19-man squad, and $4,000 from the Singapore Hockey Federation (SHF).

"The team must take ownership of their performances, and put our money where our mouth is," added the South African.

The players are eager to become better. They have set attendance targets for both gym sessions (90 per cent) and field work (85 per cent), as well as monthly fitness benchmarks from the Beep Test, starting from 13.5 through to a lofty target of 15.

Before using the 2.4km run as their mandatory fitness test, Singapore's only professional sports league - football's S.League - set a passing mark of 13.1.

Casoojee has put in place a system where players can get a refund over the amount they spent for the Oman trip based on their hitting targets and performances.

"But if they don't meet minimum attendance targets, they're out," he said.

"It was a decision reached after going through a process where we've realised that the softly-softly approach needed to be changed."

GOOD RESPONSE

The players have been responding well.

"I'm all for the idea - this puts the onus on players, instead of us just relying on our coaches to push us," said Saiful Nizam.

"It remains to be seen whether this system will work, but there have been visible changes already - training attendance has improved and motivation, too."

He admitted that there were some reservations among the players about forking out money for the Oman trip.

"Some were taken aback but came around when the rationale was explained," said Saiful.

"Personally, it gives me more motivation."

The international hockey fraternity has rallied around the Singapore team's bid for a ticket for the Asian Games, with Casoojee revealing that the International Hockey Federation (FIH) had convinced Oman to suspend their local league for a week for the two games to be played, with the Omani federation covering local costs.

"It's really generous of them, otherwise we wouldn't be able to go," said Casoojee.

Around 223 athletes from 19 sports will fly the Singapore flag at the Asian Games, with the number likely to increase before the SNOC submits its final list on Aug 15.

HOCKEY

RESULTS OF ASIAN GAMES HOCKEY QUALIFIERS l Singapore 3 Iran 2 l Bangladesh 2 Singapore 0 l Singapore 6 Hong Kong 1 l Oman 4 Singapore 0 (semi-finals) l Sri Lanka 3 Singapore 2 (3rd/4th-place match)

This article was published on April 30 in The New Paper.

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