money timeIt’s Money time for hockey… 2017 will prove to be an important year for decisions that will change our game of hockey. Last month I wrote about the changes decided by the FIH in my blog “Sport or Entertainment“. Although we will not see all of the effects of these changes in the year to come, it will be a crucial year where national federations and the clubs playing top level hockey will have to decide what will be the impact of the international changes upon our game of hockey at club level.

Embracing change & innovations

We are a sport that embraces change and innovations. The introduction of artificial grass, the abolishment of the offside rule, the introduction of interchange, the self-pass and many more are but some of these examples. The introduction of 4 quarters of 15 minutes instead of 2 halves of 35 minutes for a game (and the theft of 10 minutes of our game each game) is an example of a new rule only applauded by the FIH marketing team that came up with this and is not liked at all by a majority of coaches and players playing the sport…. nor the supporters. Some rule-changes were reversed after testing, some will not be reversed. Sometimes we’re happy with this, sometimes we’re not… All part of life!
But…

What will happen to our club competitions?

I have no doubt the majority of those involved with hockey at any level or capacity will agree that our club competitions are at the heart of our sport in these parts of the world (Europe that is). And all will agree that the changes that are upon us (see “Sport or Entertainment“) will have a huge impact on these club competitions that are the crucial to our sport.

If you’re playing at a recreational level I’m sure you will have nothing to fear for your own team and competition. There is no reason these should change or change significantly. But if you’re playing your sport at the highest level, maybe even with some international aspirations… Or maybe you’re a fan of the game at toplevel… In that case the decisions made by our national federations this year will most likely have a huge impact on your competition(s) from 2018 on.

The administrators of our game will have to rethink our European club competitions and its traditional calendar to fit in with the international calendar for national teams or will we have to deal with “cricket”-like problems where national team players will abandon their national team in order to make money in some professional competitions. Luckily for our sport we’re still an Olympic sport – cricket chooses not to be Olympic because of conflicting business (!) interests. And at this moment an Olympic medal is still worth the sacrifice of a making less money early in life for most athletes. But this might change if the amount of money made in professional short-term competitions will start to grow to a level of other pro sports. The amount of money made in the HIL for example is at the moment life changing for some of the Indian players, but not yet for those lucky enough to be born in richer countries. But should the experiment of the Hockey India League really take off (and it could…) that might change…

Suppose the HIL really takes off…

Suppose our international players would be getting paid the sums we see in cricket and some other pro sports. Who is to say our best players would also not prefer the mighty dollar/euro/rupee to the sacrificies that come with an Olympic medal? What would be the impact on our clubs here in Europe – at this moment still the true foundation of our sport – if that happens? Are we prepared to deal with that?

Well, reassuringly this will not be happening in 2017, nor 2018. But that does not mean we should not be considering the different road our sport has taken recently… The international calendar will dictate some important changes for us here in Europe. Our top players will have to manage a yearly calendar with:

  • some 25-30 weeks in a national club competition between September and December plus March until May or June and its preparation time in August and January/February
  • 3-4 weeks of EHL – our European club competition
  • 6-8 weeks of competition in professional events such as the HIL during January and February
  • 12-16 weeks for the new Home & Away FIH competition with their national team and their preparation time
  • several weeks every year for different FIH events and their preparation time… (2017 = World League & Continental Cup – 2018 = WL & World Cup – 2019 = WL, Olympic Qualifier and Continental Cup – 2020 = WL & Olympics)
  • and let’s not forget the time needed to train and rest to perform at top level.

Money Time

Anyway… in 2017 our national federations will have to come up with their solution to manage the work load of their top players in new national club competitions allowing for their clubs to generate enough events/games to continue to grow the interest of fans and sponsors supporting our sport. Not an easy task! That’s why it’s Money Time for hockey as we know it… The decisions made in these next few months will have a huge impact on our game, especially here in Europe.

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