Ipoh (Malaysia): The invitational Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will on Wednesday celebrate its Silver Jubilee withthe start of the 25th edition of the tournament that has grown to become Asia's biggest hockey event, and one of the foremost on the annual international roster.
Starting with the inaugural tournament in 1983 as a biennial event, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup has been an annual feature in the International Hockey Federation (FIH) calendar since 1998.
Since then, 2002 was the only year it was not staged, because Malaysia was hosting the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur under Sultan Azlan Shah's leadership.
An opening ceremony tomorrow will exhibit a montage tribute to the Late Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak, the ninth Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia, whose association with the game of hockey is epitomised in numerous ways.
The continuity of the event is now a hockey legacy of the Late Sultan, a former Vice-President of the FIH and head of the Asian Hockey Federation, who personally attended all the tournament until he passed away in 2014.
Datuk Rahim Mohd Ariff, chaiman of the tournament organising committee on behalf of Perak Hockey, says the Late Sultan's entire family will attend the opening ceremony of the tournament's Silver Jubilee edition.
"The people of Perak State and the hockey fraternity across the country take a lot of pride in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which is scheduled around the late Sultan's birthday," says Rahim, who has been the chairperson of the organising body since the tournament was permanently moved from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh as per the desire of Sultan Azlan Shah.
"It is the only international hockey tournament in the world named after a person. It is also the longest running invitational tournament," says Rahim.
"A lot of other tournaments began during the past few decades, but they could not continue long."
Involved in several capacities from player, administrator and patron of the game that he was fond of, the Late Sultan Azlan Shah's persistence ensured that top hockey talent from around the world came and exhibited their dazzling skills in front of admiring audiences in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh.
Chief organiser Rahim said the tournament always sought to promote Asian hockey and with that focus in mind, the organisers had always invited four Asian teams. This decision has recently endorsed by the Asian Hockey Federation. He said the event has always run smoothly, except for the torrential rains in 2010 that flooded the pitch on the day of the final encounter.
"The FIH's tournament director that year was a South African, who had never encountered such a situation," said Rahim.
"The the problem was resolved when the Sultan directed him to declare India and South Korea as the joint champions." The declaration of joint champions had never happened before but in Ipoh that day, it was the perfect solution.