The 13th Hockey World Cup is about to get under way in the Hague in the Netherlands and for only the second time since the competition started in 1971, the Men’s and Women’s competitions will be played simultaneously; Something the athletes welcome.
The tournament will be tinged with sadness as yesterday the man who lent his name to the longest running invitational Hockey tournament, the Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak in Malaysia passed away. The tournament started in 1983 as a biennial event played in Kuala Lumpur, and Australian coach Ric Charlesworth played in that first tournament that Australia won. In 1998 in became an annual event and with teams only having to pay their airfares to get to Malaysia to participate it has become an extremely popular tournament. In fact all of the teams competing at the Rabobank World Cup in the Hague will have participated in the tournament at some stage, so no doubt they will be saddened by the news that the Sultan has passed away, and hopefully will show their respect accordingly.
Apart from being an avid fan of the game and a handy player, representing his state the Sultan Azlan was President of the Malaysian Hockey Federation until 2005. Thanks to his leadership Malaysia hosted the Hockey World Cups in 1975 and 2002. In the 1975 edition, Malaysia finished fourth, losing the semi-final to eventual winners India and then to West Germany in the third place play-off. This was their best ever finish in the world cup history.
The Azlan Shah was elected as the president of the Asian Hockey Federation in 1997 and held that position until his passing away yesterday. In 1992, he also became the vice president of the International Hockey Federation (FIH). So he was heavily involved with the game and will be a great loss to the sport. He was 86 years old.
This year’s world cup should be an intriguing affair, Australia looking to retain the trophy they won in 2010. Their coach Ric Charlesworth looking to repeat the feat of winning back-to-back titles which he achieved with the Hockeyroos in 1994 and 1998. Interestingly 1998 was the last time that the women’s and men’s tournaments were held simultaneously also in the Netherlands, and on that occasion the women were succesful but the men finished fourth outside of the medals.
The Kookaburras finished outside of the medals in the finals of the World League in India in January, the first time this had happened for many of the squad. They quickly made amends winning emphatically the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup for a record eighth time. The World Cup will be an entirely different proposition, yet they have the manpower to do so.
Adam Commens has done a fantastic job rejuvenating the Hockeyroos and despite not medalling in 2010 are expected to be in the frame come the finals on the 15th of June. They will be hoping that the Kookaburras will be there with them and are able to give Charlesworth the perfect leaving present as he steps down as head coach after the Commonwealth Games. If both teams can lift the title it will be the first time that a nation has lifted the men’s and Women’s and Men’s titles in the same year.
Can we see it happening? It will be tough for both teams but is a distinct possibility.