Viet Nam News
Singaporean James Chew was a town planner for 35 years before he arrived in Việt Nam back in 2005. Having been a professional hockey player in Singapore, he and like-minded expats decided to start promoting the sport across the country, and thanks to their efforts Việt Nam has made significant progress. Thanh Nga talks to him.
Inner Sanctum: As manager of the Việt Nam national hockey squad and CEO of the Việt Nam Hockey Federation (VHF), you are leading the Việt Nam team at the ongoing Nantou International Men’s Hockey Tournament in Chinese Taipei. Can you evaluate the Vietnamese team and their rivals?
In any evaluation, we have to compare light with light. Firstly, we have to take into account when each nation started playing hockey. Việt Nam started international hockey in 2013. Secondly, we have to consider the hockey infrastructure (the number of hockey pitches, hockey academies and hockey competions), and thirdly the number of hockey players and coaches in each country. The number of players is important because the bigger the pool the more talented players you can recruit for the national team. If you take these three factors into account, Việt Nam is severely handicapped against our rivals at the tournament. If hockey has a handicap system like golf, I would say Việt Nam hasn’t faired so badly.
Inner Sanctum: Will Việt Nam compete at any other events?
There are three International Hockey Federation (FIH) events next year: the Hockey World League in Singapore, the Asia Cup (Indoor Hockey) in Bangkok and the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEA) Games in Manila. There is also the Oceania Tournament in Australia which is an invitational and the 2nd Nantou Hockey Tournament which Việt Nam can take part in. Whether Việt Nam will compete or not depends on whether we can secure sponsorship for the team.
Inner Sanctum: Thanks to your efforts, hockey has been played in Việt Nam for over 12 years now and has made great advances. Can you sum up the results?
To sum up, hockey development in Việt Nam has been phenomenal given the challenges it has faced over the 12 years. We set up the Việt Nam Men National Hockey Team in just six years with limited resources. We’ve participated in two Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and One World League Tournament. Việt Nam became a member of the International Hockey Federation in November 2014 and we now have 1,000 hockey players in the country.
Inner Sanctum: Việt Nam has a men’s hockey team to compete in international tournaments including the Southeast Asian Games. Do you intend to establish a national women’s hockey team?
Work is in progress to start a national women’s hockey team. We would focus on indoor hockey first for the women’s team.
Inner Sanctum: Of all the achievements you have made, which one stands out?
It has to be helping Việt Nam to participate at it’s first ever international hockey tournament (at the SEA Games in Myanmar in 2013).
Inner Sanctum: Have you encountered many difficulties and challenges during your time developing hockey in Việt Nam?
Much success has been achieved in creating awareness of hockey in Việt Nam, but getting funding to develop the sport is still the main challenge. Whilst Vietnamese universities are already playing hockey, we are still trying to introduce it in schools. We need to do this to develop the sport.
Head coach: James Chew (middle with cap) poses with the Việt Nam team at the Nantou International Men’s Hockey Tournament in Chinese Taipei. Photo courtesy of Jamese Chew
Inner Sanctum: Using your own private funds, you built the Việt Nam Hockey Centre in Long An Province in June 2013. However, there are still only a few hockey events in the country because many people don’t know about the sport. How do you use the centre effectively?
The Việt Nam Hockey Centre is waiting for more players and events, so we allow the centre to be used for football, touch rugby and other sports. So to answer your question, we use the centre as a multi-sports venue so it can be utilised effectively. It is a challenge keeping the centre going.
Inner Sanctum: What’s your next plan to develop hockey in the country?
The plan has always been to spread hockey to the other major cities and large towns in Việt Nam. Hockey is now being played in HCM City and Đà Nẵng, and has also been introduced to Hà Nội. On the international stage, the plan is to win a medal at the SEA Games which would help promote the sport. At the next SEA Games, we hope to send both men’s and women’s hockey teams to Manila.
Inner Sanctum: What are your personal ambitions?
I can do much more to develop hockey in Việt Nam. As I have used up most of my own money, I hope to find a sponsor that can cover my own salary so I can give up my job at Nagecco and focus on hockey full time. After 12 years I can see the potential of the country becoming a strong hockey nation because Vietnamese are sport-minded and the country has a large population.
Within the next five years, Việt Nam’s men’s team could be in the top 20, and the women could go top 15. Many of my hockey friends in other countries like powerhouse Malaysia are in awe of Việt Nam’s potential. Just like football, Việt Nam has the potential to be the top hockey nation in SE Asia.
I have seen two players at Bắc Ninh Sports University who picked up hockey so quickly they looked like seasoned pros in just a few days. To build a strong national team we need to find more players like them throughout Việt Nam. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister, said you need five million people to find a genius, so in Việt Nam with nearly 100 million, you have 20 genius hockey players which is enough for a national squad.
Inner Sanctum: How much money do you need from a sponsor for you to focus on developing hockey?
I am looking for VNĐ100 million (US$4,350) a month less than my actual salary.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell me a little bit about your former and present jobs?
By profession, I am a town planner. I helped plan Singapore working for the Singapore Government between 1990 and 1998, and came to Việt Nam in 2005 to plan Phú Yên Province. I stayed in Việt Nam after the project and worked for VinaCapital, then BRG Group and VinGroup. Currently, I am with Nagecco as their Director of Business Development and advisor of master planning and design work.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you choose to live and work in Việt Nam?
Việt Nam is an emerging economy with a growing urbanisation rate with many challenges to plan and build a better physical environment for a better quality of life. I love challenges and finding solutions for them. VNS