When Rafaqat Shahzad was selected from a pool of coaches to lead a team of young hockey players from Hong Kong’s Shaheen Sports Club to Ipoh, it was like a dream come true for him to have the opportunity to visit the home city of Raja Ashman Shah AHF-MHC Hockey Academy.
The 28-year-old Shahzad from Pakistan, who is known as Rafi among friends, has played hockey since he was a young lad in Lahore. In 2011, he moved to Hong Kong as a premier league player in one of the clubs, subsequently joining Shaheen as a professional hockey player and then coach. Although Shaheen Sports Club tours Ipoh and Penang annually for summer games against local clubs, it was Shahzad’s first trip to Malaysia, and he was as excited as his chargers.
Despite having heard about the tropical country from his colleagues and team mates in Shaheen, Shahzad was still taken by surprise when he landed at Penang International Airport. The first thing that struck him was the heat. “Our local contacts had warned us that it had been raining for the past two weeks, so we were prepared for wet days, but it was a complete opposite during our stay,” he laughed.
The delegation of 18, comprising players from as young as ten years old up to 17, spent four days in Ipoh and another four in Penang. “I am appreciative of the assistance we received from local clubs, namely IpohBUG, Ipoh Lads and Penang Sports Club, who helped with ground preparations, logistics and transportation as well as local authorities for allowing us the use of their facilities to ensure our tour was successful,” Shahzad said.
“For these children, whom I am hoping will one day turn into professional hockey players, going on their first international tour and getting to play at a world class hockey stadium like Stadium Azlan Shah with its Olympic-standard AstroTurf created a lasting impression on them. Coming to Ipoh personally, they can see how big a sport hockey is and they can then share these new experiences with their peers back home, to let them know that there are similar rewards waiting for them should they work harder at their hockey,” he added.
As a professional player himself, Shahzad believed that participating in a hockey tour like this helped to further instil discipline in these young sportsmen and women. They were given a schedule and were expected to follow through without prompting. Indeed, after breakfast, the team, who put up at a nearby hotel, was seen trooping to the stadium at 8am for morning training.
In Malaysia, Shahzad found it surprisingly easy to feed his team, composed of members from different ethnic backgrounds and religions. “Being a Muslim, I had no issue looking for Halal food in Malaysia. Some of these kids also had various food allergies but because of the wide variety of food available in food courts, meal times were a breeze. It’s actually like eating at home,” he said.
A Pakistani married to a Hong Kong Chinese and working with ethnic minority communities in his full-time employment as hockey coach with New Home Association, a mainland China non-governmental organisation based in Hong Kong, Shahzad has taken to heart the welfare of ethnic minorities. Therefore, included in this tour were two ethnic minority children, respectively of Indonesian and Pakistan descent, under the care of New Home Association.
“In Hong Kong, ethnic minority communities generally do not have a good image in society. Therefore, I hope that these children and their friends from similar background are able to build their individual confidence and create something out of life through sports; in their case, hockey. It is not difficult to gain a spot in the Hong Kong national hockey team and we are working towards that. Bringing them along on this tour, we increase their interest in the sport, expose them to the lifestyle of sportsmen with morning and evening training and teach them how to look after themselves and their gear when they are travelling as a player.
“Of course, it is important to cultivate discipline and we have to do it from young. We teach them to respect their seniors and show them that training is part and parcel of the life of a sports professional,” Shahzad stressed.
Luckily, it was not all work and no play for the youngsters, as they were taken to Lost World of Tambun for a splashing good afternoon in Ipoh, and spent leisure time hunting down the many wall murals in Georgetown during the Penang leg of their tour.
Note: An edited version of this article [Going places, playing hockey] was published on 26th August 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.