AT THE HELM: James Chew, CEO of the Việt Nam Hockey Federation. Photo courtesy of James Chew
James Chew was a professional hockey player in Singapore and then a town planner for many years before he came to Việt Nam in 2005. His efforts saw hockey become popular around the country quite quickly and the men’s national team has already competed at international tournaments. Using his own funds, he built the Việt Nam Hockey Centre, the country’s first such facility and now closed, in Bến Lức Town in the Mekong Delta’s Long An Province in June 2013. He is also CEO of the Việt Nam Hockey Federation. Thanh Nga spoke to him about how hockey has grown and what its future holds, especially during these COVID-19 times.
Inner Sanctum: Hi James, long time no see. How are you?
Yes, it’s been a while since we last spoke. I’m good and trust you’re fine too.
Inner Sanctum: You haven’t forgotten about hockey over the last couple of years have you?
Since the hockey centre in Long An closed in mid-2019 I’ve had to re-think how hockey can be developed further in Việt Nam, given the limited resources I have at my disposal. I’ve also realised that I need plenty of help to continue the job I’ve started and to take hockey to the next level. I haven’t forgotten about hockey -- just slowed down the pace of work.
Inner Sanctum: How has hockey grown in Việt Nam in recent years?
After making the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur in 2017 we missed out on the 2019 Games in Manila because we were rebuilding the national team after a few retirements. Việt Nam hopes to play indoor hockey at SEA Games 2021 in Hà Nội if it is approved as a sport.
The Việt Nam Hockey Development Plan has focused on the following strategies in recent years:
(a) Introducing the sport and increasing the number of hockey players in Việt Nam;
(b) Conducting sessions on hockey coaching, with a view to increasing the number of Vietnamese hockey coaches.
(c) Focusing development efforts on major cities, starting with HCM City and Hà Nội.
(d) Establishing a Hockey Academy for children aged between 6 and 16 years old.
DEAL DONE: James Chew (middle) at a signing ceremony for a sports co-operation contract at Tôn Đức Thắng University in HCM City. Photo courtesy of James Chew
Inner Sanctum: How has hockey fared amid COVID-19?
As with most other sports, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact. Travel restrictions have made international tournaments impossible this year. Asian Hockey Federation meetings and hockey coaching are now conducted online. In Việt Nam, however, training did start again for a while.
Inner Sanctum: What’s the latest with your efforts to establish a national women’s team?
The national women’s hockey team started training last year at the HCM City Sports University. The focus is now on indoor hockey, in preparation for SEA Games 2021 in Hà Nội, if it is indeed approved as a sport. Nguyễn Lê Quang and Huỳnh Đại Phúc are the coaches.
Inner Sanctum: What are the advantages and disadvantages in establishing a women’s team?
I think the standard of play among women’s hockey teams that would play at the SEA Games is more even than among men’s teams. The Vietnamese women’s team has a much better chance of winning a medal at the SEA Games than the men’s team does. But the sport is popular in Việt Nam and elsewhere in Asia, such as Japan, South Korea and China.
Inner Sanctum: What is being planned for competing at the SEA Games in Việt Nam next year?
Everything is ready if hockey is approved as a sport.
FAMILY MAN: James and his sons on Olympic Hockey Day in HCM City. Photo courtesy of James Chew
Inner Sanctum: What are your ambitions for developing hockey in Việt Nam?
My ambition has always been the same -- to make hockey popular in Việt Nam and develop the country into one of the top hockey-playing nations in the world and a regular at the Olympics.
Inner Sanctum: One difficulty in growing the sport here is sponsorship. How do you deal with that?
Understanding sponsors are important. They like to know the mileage they can get from a deal, especially for an emerging sport like hockey in Việt Nam.
Inner Sanctum: How many hockey players are there in Việt Nam now?
There are about 500 in the country.
Inner Sanctum: What can you tell us about what you do now?
I am now with JERDE, an architectural design firm headquartered in Los Angeles and with a regional office in Singapore, as their business development officer for Southeast Asia. I’m looking at opening a JERDE office in Việt Nam next year. VNS