I was already working on another opinion piece on this website about where I think some of the priorities should be for those who govern our sport of hockey. But then I got taken by surprise, as most of you I’m sure, by the next episode in this soap opera Hockey India is putting on… I get India is not Europe and therefore Indians might think and react differently then what we’re used to over here in western Europe. So forgive me if I do not understand or seem to be a bit blunt towards India. I’m but a cool-headed, down to earth western European who sometimes struggles understanding the more passionate that roam this earth.
So what happened…
Early June the FIH announced the name and the participating countries for this new annual event they have been talking about since the FIH congress (and before probably) in Dubai last year. The Hockey Pro League (or HPL) will start in January of 2019 and is said to change hockey. The idea behind it all is to have events where every match is televised and is being played in packed & loud stadiums. Nine countries were selected in both men & women, because we’re still one of the few sports in the world that give men & women the same opportunities. It is an event that even before it has started is cause for worry among most of European hockey fans. Because it will force us to change/adapt our traditional club competitions. And people, even hockey fans, do not react well to change ;) It will mean the Champions Trophy is now truly dead and the very recently created HWL (Hockey World League) is already enjoying a thorough make-over.
We will still have 2 major global events on our hockey calendar : the Olympics and the World Cup. With both of these only being organised every 4 years there was too much time in between where hockey would not be in the picture. Not all countries (very few even) have the annual national club leagues on a level that is considered to be topsport and enjoys some media attention. So the annual event HPL would offer national teams more exposure and hockey fans more tophockey on a regular basis.
A lot still has to be decided regarding the specifics of the new international calendar. But many people, due to a lack of clear and simple communication by FIH and all national associations, are already in a state of panic about the changes about to come… before they even know what is happening exactly. So let’s take a moment to breathe and remain calm until all is known… before we take a stand for or against the changes to our sport. However remaining calm is not the Indian way, so it seems once again… ;)
Within a month after joining the HPL, Hockey India has now withdrawn again from the HPL. What the exact reasons and consequences for this are, were not communicated. As often the case, anonymous Hockey India officials announce some bogus reasons to the Indian press. They claim it is because the Indian women would not benefit from the HPL in the road to Tokyo. That is clearly not the case, so we will have to wait and see what really is behind this sad decision and what would be the consequences for all concerned.
Let me explain the exact road to Tokyo 2020 based upon the agreements communicated during the FIH congress in November 2016 in Dubai and the new event portfolio of the FIH.
The IOC is clear. Every country needs to have at least 2 separate ways of qualifying for the Games. There are 12 spots for countries at the Games in Tokyo. Firstly the organising country is qualified by default normally, unless they have no real record of international appearances. In this case Japan is qualified by default. Secondly all countries have the possibility to qualify through winning their continental championship. That is good for another 5 spots in the Olympic tournament. And last but not least the remaining spots (6 in total) can be earned in an Olympic Qualification tournament, an event usually held the same year as the Games.
Japan does not have to play the Olympic Qualifier (OQ), but will play the Asian championship and the Hockey World League (HWL). If they end up on a qualifying rank in either of these, their spot in the OQ will go to the first ranked team on the FIH global ranking that did not manage to qualify in another event.
The European, Asian, Oceanic, African and Pan-American champion will not have to play the OQ. But these countries will participate in the HWL and if they end up on a qualification rank in the HWL, their spot in the OQ will go to the first ranked team on the FIH global ranking that did not manage to qualify in another way.
All countries registered with the FIH have the possibility to enrol for the HWL 1, which will always be played in several regional events to minimize travelling costs for participating countries. The top 9 countries in the FIH global ranking are exempt form the HWL 1 and will enter as of the HWL 2 event. This HWL 2 event will be played in 3 events with 8 countries each, in different regions of the world. Each event will be played by 3 countries from the top 9 and 5 countries that qualified through the HWL 1. The top 2 of each of these three HWL 2 events will qualify for the OQ.
Nine countries were selected by the FIH to be a part of the new Hockey Pro League (HPL) as of January 2019. The top 4 of this event will also qualify to play the OQ. They do NOT qualify directly for Tokyo as many media suggest. The top 4 qualify to play the OQ.
So if you did not become a continental champion, the only way a country can qualify for Tokyo is through this OQ event with always 12 countries playing it. To qualify for this OQ event you have to be in the top 4 of the HPL or in the top 2 of the HWL 2 event. If you do not make this criteria they remainder of the participants will be selected based upon their global ranking. Finally 6 countries from this OQ event will qualify for Tokyo.
So if Indian officials claim the reason for pulling out of the HPL is it would give their women less of a chance to qualify for Tokyo I say bullshit ! Especially their women’s team would benefit from playing the top nations often during the HPL to be more stronger when they play the OQ or Asian championship. So the explanations offered in the Indian press do not make sense.
That leaves me with the question… What is happening in India?
I honestly hope they get their act back together. The yearly HIL is a great event and would be missed by players and fans if it disappears a the rumours go. The HPL would be less of a spectacle without India in it… They only thing we would not miss are these constant allegations towards the FIH, Pakistan and other countries if things do not go their way. That is drama we can do without… or am I just a boring western European guy now who cannot cope with some extra flavour? ;)