Hockey community passes the puck to Vietnam hinh anh 1The Vietnamese hockey team at a training session for the FIH Hockey World League in Singapore (Photo: courtesy of Vietnam Hockey Centre)

Hanoi (VNA) - For many people, hockey is a very new sport in Vietnam, however, it has been played in the country for over 10 years now. In fact, Vietnam has a national men’s hockey team to compete in international tournaments thanks to James Chew, a Singaporean hockey player and Asian Hockey Federation ambassador.

“The main reason I introduced hockey to the Vietnamese people is that I want them to benefit from hockey the way that I have, and still do benefit from it,” said Chew who has been living and working in Vietnam for over 10 years, but has been a hockey player for over 40 years.

Chew said hockey is played by many developed and developing countries such as Germany, Holland, England, Switzerland, Australia, Spain, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, China and Singapore.

“Hockey is a sport you can play until you are very old as it is a non-contact sport (unlike football or rugby), so it can keep you fit and healthy as you grow old. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has a range of international hockey competitions for all age groups right up to veterans,” Chew added.

Many attempts were made by Chew and passionate expatriate hockey players to kick start field hockey in the big cities of Vietnam in the past few years, but practically all of these attempts never went very far for one reason or another, until now.

Although it is a far cry from the Olympics, the advent of the first international hockey competition in Vietnam, as part of the Vietnam Hockey Festival in November 2008 in HCM City (with hockey teams from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Vietnam) was an important milestone in efforts to kick start the development of field hockey in this sports loving nation.

Since 2008, the Vietnam Hockey Festival has been organised annually by the Vietnam Hockey Company Limited (known as “Vietnam Hockey”). 

“We organise the hockey festival in Vietnam every year for sports lovers. It is also a chance for Vietnamese athletes to hone their skills and the event’s best athletes will be selected to the national team,” said Chew.

In 2015, the festival attracted the participation of 22 teams including Malaysia, Switzerland and Australia competing in women’s, men’s and mixed events.

Le Phan Ba Tung of Australia’s Hockey Kingy team, who has taken part in the festival for five years in a row, said that each time he returned to Vietnam he always had a special feeling. He introduced his native land to his friends and they had a very interesting competition.

Chew has hockey coaching experience, but now focuses on hockey administration, raising funds and getting sponsorship for hockey in Vietnam.

As the Asian Hockey Federation ambassador, Chew held meetings with the leaders of the Vietnam Sports Administration with the aim of founding a Vietnam Hockey Federation (VHF).

With Chew’s efforts, the VHF was formed in August 2013, and it became the 132nd member of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in November 2014, so that Vietnam can participate in the World Cup and international tournaments.

Using private funds, Chew who was born in Malaysian but is now living in Vietnam with his wife and two young sons, built the first Vietnam Hockey Centre at Ben Luc Town, Long An province in June 2013.

It is the first hockey coaching and training academy in the country as well as the retail/wholesale centre for the procurement of hockey equipment and a meeting place or base for charting out the development of field hockey in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese national men’s hockey team was established in 2013 and for the first time in Vietnamese sporting history, they played hockey in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2013 in Myanmar.

Although they lost to Singapore in the event’s first match, they left a deep impression on their fans.

The teams are going to the FIH Hockey World League in Singapore on April 9-17, which is a qualifier for the World Cup in 2018, to learn and gain experience.

“Our target for the event is modest, we hope to achieve a respectable fifth position out of the nine teams at the League,” said Chew.

“The Vietnam team are actually using the tournament to train for the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 19-31, 2017. The target for the future is to help the team win a bronze medal at the 29th Games,” he said.

To prepare for the event, the VHF invited Malaysian Tai Beng Hai, world-renown hockey coach, to train the team through the Asian Hockey Federation’s "High Performance Assistance Programme."

“Vietnam has progressed very well in the practice. More exposure to international practice and approaches will strengthen the team for the event in Singapore and future tournaments,” said Hai.

According the League’s draw, Vietnam are in men’s Pool A with China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Brunei, while Pool B consists of the host Singapore, and Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and Myanmar.

Vietnam will meet Hong Kong on April 9, China on April 10, Brunei on April 12 and Thailand on April 13.-VNA