Everybody following international tophockey was very excited last year with the birth of the Hero Hockey India League (HIL) in India. A completely new concept for our sport based upon the immensely successful IPL in cricket. The concept is simple:
- 6 professional teams attached to a city or region all over India
- teams owned by their sponsor(s) with multi million dollar budgets
- every team has the same budget to compose their 25 player team, 15 Indian players and 10 international players
- players are “bought” through an auction where teams can bid on the players they want
- a short one month competition where all teams play each other in home & away games followed by semi-finals and finals
- during the game only 5 international players are allowed on the pitch at the same time
- the competition is backed by strong marketing and media presence.
The idea behind all of this is to help resurrect the former hockey giant India to international standards… and they’re doing a great job according to me.
Last year the competition had to start with only 5 teams, because the 6th sponsor could not be found in time. But 5 teams were created, 125 players were bought of which 50 of the best in the world and in a typical Indian managed chaos the competition was launched. In several of the cities the stadiums were packed and almost 70 million (!!!) people watched it on TV. The final was played before a stadium packed in true Indian style with people climbing on top of the roof to get a glance. This year the league found their 6th sponsor and team, the Kalinga Lancers, and when they played two home games yesterday and today their stadium (see picture) for 15.000 was filled to max capacity two nights in a row and what a crowd… The vibe they pass on to the players is magical. The pre-game shows are in true Bollywood style and, fireworks after every game and Indian enthusiasm among the TV commentators add to the spectacle.
Of course a lot is still up for improvement, but hats off to the visionairs who came up with the concept and to those making the dream come true… It has the potential to change our game! Even the renowned Dutch “Hoofdklasse” has realised now it might be time to take a good look at their own competition format and just maybe it would be time to rethink some of it to prevent becoming a dinosaur…
When will Belgian hockey have the guts to move away from conservatism? Today we have a tendency to look too much to the past and stick with what we know in Belgian hockey, preventing for example the top players in our own competition (Belgian & foreigners) to be a part of this professional competition. I fear we still have too much the mentality to stay with what we know and what has worked in the past. Well… the world is changing and so should our sport if we want to continue on the way up. Belgian hockey has made great strides towards the top of the world these last years. Let’s not be afraid of the new and embrace the progress of our game. Yes it might be a challenge to reconcile the ambitions of tophockey and the grassroots level, but saying “no” seldom is the right answer when change come your way…
Let’s embrace change, let’s celebrate hockey!