… and we need to ensure it’s Olympic future!

Are our sport officials doing what it takes to preserve our sport on the highest podium of all, The Olympics? Or is their focus too much on other matters? Probably also important to our sport, but I don’t think anyone will argue the fact that further developing our sport on a global scale to keep its place in the Olympic family should be on top of their priority list…

More or less a month ago I felt the urge to put some of my random thoughts in writing about the future of my sport, field hockey. The first article was “The future of hockey” and I followed it up by an open letter to the FIH & EHF. As all bloggers and wannabe writers I of course have the need to be read and heard… and applauded ;) Hey, I’m human… However I was not as naive to think I would get an actual answer from the federation presidents I addressed with my open letter. I got some fans, some (international) players, some coaches, some club presidents and actually also some presidents of national federations to acknowledge the ideas in these articles. But you’ve guessed it… no answer from the people I actually wrote it to… no suprise there.

EHL brought further innovation to our sport

Last weekend the hockey community enjoyed once more the EHL, freezing their ass of in Amsterdam or warm & cosy behind the computer or TV at home or… even on the move the nice new EHL app gave us the possibility to enjoy the live streaming images from the Wagener Stadium. The people from Pro Sport and the EHF helped change the hockey sport for the better when they introduced their EHL 5 years ago. I was fortunate to be the organizer of the very first EHL at my club Antwerp (together with the dutch club HGC) and immediately became a big fan of their innovations. As you would expect not all of the aspirations for the EHL from those early days came true, the economic crisis struck hard when it was to time to harvest the potential sponsors to help fulfill the dreams they had at the start. But you’ve got to admire and respect those people at Pro Sport and especially the ABN Amro for sticking with it and continue to build the brand of the EHL and hockey. They might not have scored the biggest crowds for all matches, nor the other sponsors (yet) to help build the sport. But they’ve brought us a new standard of TV images promoting our sport and several innovations in the rules of the game that truly have added value to our sport and you have to applaud that…

The HIL is a motor for development in India
The HIL is a motor for development in India

Another recent and very welcome additional event for our hockey sport has been the recent HIL (Hockey India League) which has brought his own innovations to the sport and has immensely been appreciated by the international top players, the Indian sponsors, media and public. However I do not see any benefit in wanting to integrate both these wonderful initiatives as read in the press recently. The HIL is different from the EHL and that should not change because India is different from Europe and it has the potential to help revive Indian (and Asian) hockey to new standards and help them regain their position among the top in the world.

How to survive in the Olympics?

Which of course would also be beneficial for our sport on a global scale… Important to help keep our sport on the agenda for the Olympics. Because we must not neglect the warning that has been given recently by the IOC about the Olympic status of our sport. We might have been a big hit as a sport at the London Olympics last year, but this was not the case in Beijing or Athens and most likely hockey will not draw the biggest crowds to the Rio stadiums either.
To keep our Olympic status the international federation (FIH) has to focus on two issues that are hurting us at the moment :

  1. We need hockey representation within the IOC, which has been lost when Mr Negre took over the FIH presidency from IOC member Mrs Van Breda Vriesman.
  2. We need to focus on (re)developping our sport on a top and (!) grassroot level in important countries such as France, Spain, Brazil, USA, India, Pakistan, Japan, China, etcetera…

In the developped countries (in hockey terms) the focus should be on broadening the basis of our sport, with good infrastructure, better youth academies and a strong focus on further developping both recreational and top hockey. It is not a necessity to become a competitor for a sport such as football, but we do need to grow in numbers as a family friendly sport where respect is not just a catchphrase in marketing but seen and lived on and alongside the hockeypitches all over the world. That will attract the corporate sponsors we need to help improve our sport every year.

“Open data” for the FIH as well?

We can only assume (or maybe hope is a better word) our officials in national and especially international federations are working along these lines but to be honest I think it is a bit alarming we see so little evidence of this.  In governement politics – somewhat related or similar to sport politics I would guess – one of the hottest items at the moment is “open data“. I do think we need some of that from our federations as well to help us understand in which direction our sport is growing, what is being done and what could be our contribution
Maybe with the newest shareholder of the EHL, Infostrada Sports Group, they could get some (data & communication) expertise in house for such an “open data” project. Because frankly I am worried when I (as an engaged hockey supporter) once again see & hear tales about these ideas for a new global club competition from the officials. We do not need such a competition! It will not attract new hockeysupporters nor players nor sponsors that last and really contribute to the development of our sport. And in my humble opinion it will even be damaging for our sport because it takes the focus away from those things that do need to be done : development of our sport in those countries that can make a difference (both developped and developping countries with regards to hockey) through infrastructure and improving tophockey to stimulate recreational hockey!

So my message to the FIH and other relevant officials is please do continue developping the World League, but please forget about this global competition for clubs and focus on getting our IOC representative back and on developping hockey in key countries on every continent. And maybe invest some more attention towards open data (and communication) to reassure (or at least inform) us about the direction our officials are taking our sport… because I’m not reassured by some kind words from the parting IOC president Rogge about our sport. I think we need to do what needs to be done to make sure our sport is never doubted again to be a deserving member of the international family of sports.