SHIVANSH GUPTA GUPTA
As an aspiring sports journalist, my dream is to bring the unsung and the forgotten heroes of Indian sports into limelight and celebrate their success together with the country.
In a shocking recent development that has taken the world of Hockey by surprise, it has been confirmed that Hockey India (HI) has withdrawn its teams from the Hockey Pro League tournament, which has been projected by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) as the most prestigious tournament after the Olympics and the World Cup. The FIH’s flagship tournament will make its debut next year in January 2019. The decision was communicated on Friday by Hockey India and the news was confirmed late on Saturday night by the FIH.“The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has received confirmation from Hockey India that they have withdrawn from the Hockey Pro League. Whilst we regret Hockey India’s decision not to be involved in this exciting new global League, we have replacement teams available following an application process which was oversubscribed,” said FIH in its official release.
“The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has received confirmation from Hockey India that they have withdrawn from the Hockey Pro League. Whilst we regret Hockey India’s decision not to be involved in this exciting new global League, we have replacement teams available following an application process which was oversubscribed,” said FIH in its official release.
Narinder Batra, the President of FIH, also added in his statement, “Our Event Portfolio Implementation Panel will convene a meeting to discuss the practical implications of a team withdrawal including formally inviting replacement teams to participate in the men’s and women’s League. The first Hockey Pro League Workshop with all participating nations invited is being held in Lausanne, Switzerland later this month.”
The Hockey Pro League is designed as an entertainment product and is the centrepiece of FIH’s New Events Portfolio, kicking off in January 2019 – replacing the Champions’ Trophy and the World League Semi-Finals and World League Final. For the first time, it will provide a regular calendar of must-see events played in packed stadiums across the world and throughout the year.
The FIH believes that Hockey Pro League will transform the landscape of international hockey. Fans over the world will be able to watch their favourite sport for an extended period on the same channel each year. Moreover, those fans whose teams are participating have the chance to be part of the noise and sheer excitement of watching their team regularly in their home country.
The flagship tournament’s format will ensure that international teams will play against opponents once at home and once away each year in this league. Following several months of competition, the top four ranked teams will then qualify for a stand-alone Grand Final event, which will determine the winners of the competition. This will be identical for the men’s and women’s leagues.
The teams selected to play in the first Hockey Pro League are not simply the ‘best’ 9 national men’s and women’s teams based on traditional world ranking data. Instead, a much broader set of criteria was used as part of the application process.
In December 2016, the FIH sent application documents to the top 16 men’s and women’s hockey nations as listed in the FIH Hero World Rankings. They were asked to provide information and statistics on the following criteria:
There will be 9 men’s and 9 women’s teams. Each team will stay in the league for a minimum of 4 years. The Final will take place within 2 weeks of the close of the league and will consist of an event involving the top 4 teams (both men’s and women’s) playing together at a pre-determined location.
India (both men and women) at various tournaments since January 2017
From next year onwards, the Pro League will be one of the main qualification tournaments for Olympics, offering as many as four qualifying berths. Teams that don’t qualify as a result of the Pro League will have two other chances to qualify for the Olympics. The winners of the continental federation events will qualify directly to the Olympic Games along with Japan as the host. Top Teams from the Hockey Pro League and the new look World League Round 1 and 2 will then battle it out for the final places.
This decision may have massive repercussions for the national team. Since, the Pro League will see the world’s best team fight out for the top 4 spots for six months every year, pulling out of it means India will struggle to get competitive matches for a year and a half. If we take a closer look at the Indian men’s and women’s team performances so far this year, with reference to the table, it is interesting to note that the recent form of our national sides has been satisfactory. In some tournaments, our national sides have cleaned-sweep the series, where, s in some tournaments, we’ve seen mixed results. Taking into consideration the good run of our teams, especially the women’s, it is unfortunate that HI has undermined the success and the capabilities of a talented bunch.
Without a shadow of doubt, the level of competition will reach sky high, but taking such an intense competition head on would have played an instrumental role in seasoning the players both mentally and physically.
Hockey India will miss out on a goldmine of opportunities which would help to fortify their squads, rectify their shortcomings and build a stronger team. Taking part in the competition would have allowed the Indian teams to play in various testing conditions in front of huge crowds.
One of the main reasons cited by Hockey India for pulling out the tournament is that they feel the Indian Women’s team, which is currently placed at 12th with 923 points as per the FIH World Rankings, has a better chance of making the cut for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics through the World League. Rather shockingly, they were of the same opinion regarding the men’s team. Abiding by the laws of the new tournaments, when Hockey India decided to withdraw the women’s team, they left themselves with no other choice, but withdraw the men’s team as well, which is placed at 6th with 1346 points in the world rankings. Among other reasons hovering around the whole issue, are Hockey India’s concerns over Pro League’s impact on Hockey India League (HIL) which is usually held in January-February every year and which will have to be rescheduled to November-December, when it is likely to compete with leagues in other sports for eyeballs and sponsors. A few reports also claim that the recent deterioration in Hockey India’s relations with FIH too has played a role in this latest breakdown. As per a few sources, many in FIH have been upset by Hockey India getting the India men’s team to wear black armbands in solidarity during the match against Pakistan to protest the death of Indian soldiers and the subsequent comments by FIH president Narinder Batra on that occasion.
Among other reasons hovering around the whole issue, are Hockey India’s concerns over Pro League’s impact on Hockey India League (HIL) which is usually held in January-February every year and which will have to be rescheduled to November-December, when it is likely to compete with leagues in other sports for eyeballs and sponsors. A few reports also claim that the recent deterioration in Hockey India’s relations with FIH too has played a role in this latest breakdown. Allegedly, many in FIH have been upset by Hockey India getting the India men’s team to wear black armbands in solidarity during the match against Pakistan to protest the death of Indian soldiers and the subsequent comments by FIH president Narinder Batra on that occasion.
Upon logical analysis of the aforementioned reasons, it is anything but safe to term Hockey India’s withdrawal from the Pro League as retaliation to the criticism they have received from the international organisation for their recent actions. Hockey India has decided to withdraw from the competition on the pretext of calling their own teams ‘incapable’ of putting up a tough fight in the flagship event. However, the actual reasons seem to be the clash of the Pro League with the country’s premier domestic league, Hockey India League (HIL), which will affect them revenue-wise and sponsors-wise, and the FIH’s protest against Indian team wearing black armbands against Pakistan. The national governing body has let their arrogance and ego come in the way of the team’s welfare and this move will definitely hamper the national squads’ preparation for the upcoming major events. Hockey India was also put off majorly when Sardar Singh was called for questioning by the police in connection with a year-old sexual assault case, during the Hockey World League Semi-Final in London.
It is also suspected that Hockey India is trying to quell the voices rising against Batra, who still has a stronghold on Indian hockey, by flexing its financial muscle. More than 50% of FIH’s revenue comes from India and no competition can hope to succeed without the support of India. It might be safe to conclude that Hockey India is taking unjust advantage of their power.
HI will find themselves on the receiving end in their attempt to save the domestic league as pulling out of a competition involving top teams of the world will also rob HIL of services of top players who will be representing their country in the Pro League.
As powerful readers, it is for you to understand the degree of importance attached to this grave matter and since the decision has already been taken, we can only hope that Indian players take this as a motivation to not only prove to Hockey India but to the country that they will give their best on the hockey field regardless of their circumstances.
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