(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Considered one of the oldest and most coveted sports events in Oman, the 2013 edition of His Majesty's Cup Hockey Championship, organised by the Oman Hockey Association (OHA), began on November 28.
And, in a grim reflection of the stagnancy of the sport in the country despite the big prize money on offer, only eight teams are participating in this year's edition, down from last year's nine and 11 in 2011.
Once considered the most popular and prestigious tournament, the HM's Cup used to attract more than 15 clubs from the early 70s to the late 90s.
Speaking to Muscat Daily on the decline of participation in the HM's Cup, Mahfoodh al Juma, the OHA chairman, said, ''It is not a big decline from last year, but it is definitely disappointing to see the number of participants decreasing over the years. We are trying our best to reach out to the clubs to help promote the sport and see to it that they take part in the event.''
For the past two years, the OHA has been providing kits and equipment to the clubs, covering the main expense they have to incur to play the sport. Besides, the HM's Cup currently offers an attractive winner's prize money of RO45,000.
Saad Mohy Zaghlool, the OHA's technical advisor, said the association is doing its bit to encourage the clubs to take hockey seriously. ''There is a limit to which we can take care of the expenses to be incurred by the clubs [to run their hockey teams]. We have provided hockey sticks, balls, protective gear and even grounds for them to play,'' he said.
''The clubs only have to take care of the players' salaries, jerseys and transportation costs. Over the last two years, we have even been reimbursing transportation costs incurred by those clubs that come from outside Muscat to take part in the HM's Cup here.''
Zaghlool added, ''Many of the clubs complain of having no budget to play hockey. But you don't need more than RO10,000 a year to sustain a hockey team.''
Mohammed al Darmaki, coach of Quriyat Club, one of the teams not participating this year, argued that many of the clubs have stopped investing in hockey due to shortage of funds.
''Mostly, it is the clubs' internal affairs that stop teams from taking part in competitions,'' he said. ''Most of the clubs cite budget constraints. My club has also been dormant in hockey for the past one year, citing budget-related reasons. After all, the players are not going to play for free.''
Some say the reality is that the Ministry of Sports Affairs provides adequate financial assistance to clubs to promote a variety of sports, but the majority of that funding goes into just football.
Redha Taqi al Lawati, the OHA's general secretary, said, ''If the clubs keep giving importance to just one sport, then we might see even lesser teams coming in [for the HM's Cup] in the coming years. We need the clubs to give equal priority to every sport.''
The OHA is mulling to put a proposal across to the sports ministry, requesting it to allocate budgets for each sport separately, which could give hockey a big boost.
Zaghlool said, ''We have formulated an idea; we will soon present it to the ministry. I don't think we will be able to sustain the sport otherwise.''
The standard of the grounds has also been a big concern for the clubs, adding to hockey's woes. Zaghlool said, ''We have four astro-turf hockey grounds now. But out of those, just two are of good standard “ Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Bausher and at the Sohar Sports Complex. The other two grounds, in Salalah and Ahli-Sidab, are not in good condition.''
Understandably, lack of competition is preventing local talent from coming up, thereby depleting the pool of good players for the clubs to choose from.
Former India player K K Poonacha, who coached Oman in the past and is currently Ahli-Sidab's coach, believes there is an immediate need to start training centres in the country.
''There is enough local talent in Oman. But the only official tournaments the players get to play here are the league and the HM's Cup. We need to start coaching centres and have more events for the players to get ample exposure,'' said Poonacha.
''Also, the local players need to play alongside foreign players. For this, we need to have short tournaments so that foreign players can come over. They usually tour for short periods of time.''
Oliver Kurtz, Oman's hockey coach from Germany, has called upon the need to focus on the grassroot level.
''The clubs shouldn't just participate in the HM's Cup,'' the German said. ''We should start introducing hockey at the grassroot level, which I want to discuss in the next meeting of the OHA board. Ideally, I would want to find talented players from junior teams, so that we can groom them to become