The year 2018 is a World Cup year for hockey! The women’s world cup is done and dusted by now and the men’s is just around the corner. We’ll make some time for a more thorough evaluation of the women’s world cup when the dust has settled and we’ve had time to discuss it with those involved. But for now we’ll make some time for a quick recap of the good, the bad and the ugly about hockey in the world today.
First off, the good…
The Queen Elisabeth Olympic park in London is a perfect example of what the legacy of hosting the Olympic Games could be… should be… Six years down the road I still get goose bumps remembering walking around there, soaking up the Olympic atmosphere. Surrounded by sports fans from all walks of life, from all over the world and all kinds of sports. And of course these incredible English volunteers.
Since 2012 the hockey venue, moved just a couple of hundred meters from where the Riverbank Arena stood proudly, has been host to several top events. Each time providing hockey fans from all over with great memories. The summer of 2018 brought the women’s world cup to London. Following the amazing feat of winning gold in the Rio Olympics two years earlier, the English fans were keen to see their women perform on home soil again and ticket sales went through the roof. The venue was expanded even more and they had the wonderful idea to include a fan zone on the venue for those without tickets. Fan Central was where all could come together, browse hockey shops, have a drink together and enjoy the games on a big screen while these were played in the next door stadium. A great idea to include those with bigger families for who paying for seats every game would have been really expensive. An idea to remember and maybe even improve upon for next events where ever in the world!
Improved TV images
FIH announced before the event their British broadcasting partner BT Sports would treat us all to some spectacular innovations and images. Maybe I have not seen enough of these to be really “Wowed” by the TV production, but I hear from those in the UK the show as produced by BT Sports every day was really good. What the rest of the world did enjoy was good camera work, from more angles compared to previous events, good slo-mo’s and decent commentary… I did miss the announced ball tracking and other real innovations but the overall TV experience was good. Maybe not good enough to help those less involved in our sport understand the nuances and technical highlights of the game, but very good for us already in love with the game of hockey.
But probably the best thing about the women’s world cup were some of the surprising results. In previous years women’s hockey had become very predictable. The Netherlands are a sure thing for the final. Argentina, Australia and England were the other options. The rest almost did not stand a chance… 2018 gave us some of the surprises sports fans always crave for. The Irish women came into the world cup, just happy being there. With this old fashioned Olympic thought in mind about participating instead of winning… And these girls became the surprise women’s hockey really needed. In David vs Goliath style the true amateurs of the game were able to beat several pro teams and made the final. Without almost any funding from their country. Without their own high level training facilities and pitch in their home country. Having to pay their own way for the honour of playing for their country. Yes, you heard right… these girls did not get paid, but had to pay themselves to play for Ireland… Needless to say they stole the hearts of all neutral supporters, singing Ireland’s Call from the top of their lungs before every game. Smiling in disbelief they were going to play a world cup final… The Spanish girls were another lovely surprise making the podium when they beat Australia for the bronze medal.
However this leads me to “the bad” at the same time…
Declined level of hockey
Because, even when I hate to rain on the parade for the Spanish women and the Irish fairytale… Several knowledgable voices in hockey deplored the level of play during this world cup. We have to applaud the Dutch women because they manage year after year, generation after generation, to play the top of their sport. The loss of past legends of the game never seems a problem for the orange machine. This doesn’t just happen by accident. It takes commitment to the sport and lots of training… However all others do not manage the transition to new generations the same way. That’s why the level of hockey just was not that good from the other powerhouses in women’s hockey. It was even downright disappointing at times. The lack of strong club competitions in all other countries is making staying on top not an easy feat. But when countries who never had club hockey but always invested in a central programme for their national teams disappoint, it’s a sign the FIH should not neglect. China chose not to field their strongest team at the world cup because the Asian Games were just weeks later. The Asian Games are qualifying for Tokyo 2020. Countries like this prefer to excel at the Olympic Games or even just make the Games instead of performing at a world cup because their funding depends on making it to Tokyo. That is just bad….
The gap between umpires and players
Another concern is the increasing gap between umpires and players it seems. It is inevitable there will be difference of opinions between those playing the game, those watching the game and those umpiring the game. It’s a part of sports tradition and a source for many heated discussions in front of the TV, at the bar or these days on social media. There were several instances during this past world cup where the discussion was very lively again on social media. Which is not a bad thing per se… But it seemed to me when there were these debates about who was right and who was wrong, umpires stuck with umpires and players defended the view of other players. We have to be careful the gap between umpires and the rest of us does not become too big. I recommend following @FHumpires on your preferred social media channel. They’re on twitter, facebook and instagram. The Canadian ref Keely Dunn, who is behind these social media accounts, makes the time to explain the choices made by her colleagues and helps bridging the gap. A much needed effort…
And now for the ugly…
Global ranking & Geoblocking need a fix urgently
We all understand the need for money to help develop our sport. And when sponsors are not lining up, TV rights are another source of income for most sports and one not to be neglected. Broadcasters have to invest quite a lot of money to bring our game of hockey to the screens in a way we all enjoy this. So it is perfectly understandable their rights on these images have to be protected. On the other hand we need to promote the sport around the world as well and if all you see when clicking live stream links or social media videos is a blacked out screen stating you’re not allowed to see this video is not helping. For me geoblocking is a thing of the past… unfortunately still hanging on in the present. For me if a rights holder wants us to watch their channel, they have to make sure their show is the best. With top commentators, good pre match talks and knowledgabe analysts afterwards. Then you do not need geoblocking to prevent us watching other channels showing us the same images without much added value. But even if this view on these matters still seems not feasible, the FIH needs to manage their rights in such a way when a broadcasting partner is not showing a specific game live on TV or any other screen, the FIH will show the game in a live stream on their YouTube channel…. for every country and every fan. A blacked out screen because of geoblocking is downright ugly and hurting our sport!
Another ugly thing remains the global ranking. A new one was issued for the men after the recent Champions Trophy and for the women after this World Cup. In sports it will be proven over and over results from the past are no guarantee for results in the future. So in whatever shape or form I would never rely on a global ranking to make a friendly bet. However the global ranking as it exists today is a joke… Points are being given for continental champions. Even when it is impossible to compare the Oceanic Championship or Asian Games to for example the European Championships. But even worse points are being given based upon results in invitational events such as the Champions Trophy and we hear the FIH is still discussing also awarding points for the Hockey Pro League or HPL about to launch in 2019. That is just plain ridiculous and unfair… If we want a credible global ranking points can only be awarded based upon results for those events where all FIH affiliated nations get the same opportunity to participate. So that leaves us with the Olympic Games, the World Cup and what used to be known as the Hockey World League. Unfortunately the HWL is being replaced by the Hockey Series where top nations are not playing. But maybe that could help preventing a gap too big to overcome between current top performing nations and developing nations if these have the possibility to rank up some extra points in the Hockey Series until they get to play the big games at the top events.
Anyway, I’ve heard FIH officials and their national associations are rethinking the global ranking as we speak… So that would be a good thing as long as they remember a ranking system where points are awarded for invitational events, excluding others, is a big no-no ! To give you an idea about the effect of unfair awarded ranking points take a look at the comparison between the FIH ranking and a fair ranking (without Champions Trophy and continentals) in the images here. Yep that’s right… the Australian men only 3rd instead of 1st and the Irish women 5th instead of 8th. So like I said before… even a more fair global ranking would not be fit to base your bets upon ;)
That’s it for today… The good, the bad and the ugly from our beloved game of hockey. Hope you enjoyed it and always happy to get your feedback, especially if you have different views. Meanwhile the shows goes on… the Asian Games are about to start with qualification for Tokyo 2020 on the line. In Europe club competitions are getting ready for a first season disturbed by the HPL. And Hockey Series are being played on every continent all of the time… Last but not least in Buenos Aires the Youth Olympics get under way with the unfortunate Hockey5’s still being promoted. Where, instead of reinventing the wheel, it could have been indoor hockey, or Hockey6’s if you want, as the existing short format of our game. Which already has a legacy and lots of followers all over the world. Exciting, high scoring and easy to introduce to countries without much hockey tradition instead of inventing a new sport. But we’ll get back to that ugly aspect of our game of hockey another time ;)
We hope you enjoy your hockey!
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