SINGAPORE - In six days, Singapore's hockey men will line up across the field from Oman for the first of two friendlies (May 17 and 18). It will be their last stand.
The team failed to meet their own standards at the Asian Games hockey qualifiers in March, and will need good results against Asia's sixth-ranked side, Oman, to convince the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) that they are worthy of a ticket to the 2014 Incheon Asian Games (Sept 19 to Oct 4).
The squad then agreed to undergo a rigorous training programme and also decided to pay their own way to Oman (see top inset) and play the two games, to try and convince the selectors to give them a ticket for South Korea.
Their initiative has been given a boost by former national goalkeeper Paul Lim, who has pledged $20,000 to fuel the dreams of those who picked up the mantle after him.
"I've been there and I know what it's like to have a dream. If these guys are willing to not only work hard, but also cough up their own money for the trip, I'm in to support their dreams," Lim told The New Paper.
Lim retired from the national team after the 2007 Korat South-east Asia Games, but remained active in the local leagues before recently undergoing knee-replacement surgery.
The sponsorship comes through The Project Group, of which Lim is managing director.
The construction consultancy was involved in the DFS Galleria on Scotts Road and will be working on upcoming projects at Changi Airport.
National coach Solomon Casoojee was appreciative of Lim's gesture.
"The money will go a long way in keeping players in our programme, but this doesn't change anything, because none of us knew Paul was going to do this," said the South African.
"The boys were prepared to dig into their own pockets and that's important - in terms of attitude and commitment."
The Singapore hockey men had targeted second place in the Asian Games qualifiers but finished fourth out of eight teams.
While the tournament rules stipulated that the top four teams would qualify for the Games, the SNOC set a higher standard and the team felt the decision was fair.
While Paul's contribution will "help put some money back into the players' pockets", Casoojee insisted their commitment to the programme will have to stay the same.
The players have agreed on a minimum training attendance requirement and monthly fitness targets to drive their Asian Games bid. Progress has been encouraging.
"The fitness levels are much better than they were before the qualifiers, but last week has been a bit patchy with players having other commitments," said Casoojee, who is bracing himself for some withdrawals for the trip.
"Some might not be able to get out of their National Service, school and work commitments, and we might have to go there with an under-strength side, but the team will be slightly stronger than the one that went to the qualifiers.
"I'm still confident that we can go there and get a job done."
Lim, 33, has come forward in the past, forking out $22,500 to defray costs in the men's bid to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. While the team failed then, there is a feeling that the outcome will be different this time.
"I believe in our national team and I'm putting my money where my mouth is - like they have," said Lim. "But this is only the first step."
"Even if they go (to Oman) and win, they'll still have to face the (SNOC) appeals panel."
I've been there and I know what it's like to have a dream. If these guys are willing to not only work hard, but also cough up their own money for the trip, I'm in to support their dreams.
This article was published on May 11 in The New Paper.
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