Asian Games 2018 – Chinese take up sticks in changing face of Hong Kong hockey
The last time Jakarta hosted the Asian Games, in 1962, the Hong Kong men’s hockey team made up one third of the territory’s 54-strong contingent and featured a multi-ethnic team of Indians, Pakistanis and Portuguese.
Fifty-six years on and Hong Kong’s hockey players are back in Jakarta – men and women – with most of the players local Chinese.
“It’s quite interesting,” said Hong Kong Hockey Association chief Sarinder Dillon. “The first time we went to the Asian Games was way back in 1962 and it was in Jakarta, so I think it’s nice that after all these years, the second time they are hosting the Games, we got both the Hong Kong men’s and women’s teams.
“But the hockey scenario has changed so much since then.”
Back then Hong Kong standing in Asia as a hockey force was much higher. While they were no match for India and Pakistan, they were not far behind.
These days, Hong Kong are among the second tier of nations and face tough matches in their pool games.
The men are in pool A with India, South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia while the women face China, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan in pool A.
“It’s going to be a massive learning experience for us,” said men’s coach Fabian Gregory, the former South Africa national coach. “We are going with a relatively inexperienced squad, it’s a real challenge for us and will test the mental strength of the players as they take on teams ranked way ahead of us.
“It will be interesting to see how we cope defensively because we will be facing attackers who are at a much higher level than we are.
“It’s an awesome challenge for us and I’m really looking forward to seeing to see how we handle ourselves against some really quality teams.”
Sarinder said that a number of quality ethnic Indian and Pakistani players were eligible to apply for Hong Kong SAR passports and qualify for the Asian Games team but they chose not to.
“The ruling is that players must carry the passport of the country they are representing,” he said. “We actually had five or six good Indian and Pakistani boys. One or two did [change passports] but the majority did not for personal reasons.
“For personal reasons they did not want to change their nationality, which is understandable because they have to think about future generations.
“But the current teams comprise mainly of Chinese players and this is good for Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s best performance at the Asian Games was in 1978 in Bangkok, Thailand when they finished fifth. They did not take part in the 2014 Incheon Games but finished eighth, eighth, ninth and ninth from 1998 to 2010.
Hong Kong will be hoping for at least another top-10 performance with a record 22 countries taking part in the Jakarta Games.