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Archive for June 11, 2017

June 11, 2017 — The FIFA-ization of FIH?

Today, details about the long-anticipated international competition for the International Hockey Federation (FIH) were announced.

And it seems to have yielded a tournament which, I think, is a glorified and extended Champions Trophy played out over a period of years rather than two weeks.

In both the men’s and women’s tournaments, termed the Hockey Pro League, there are nine participants, and, as anticipated, there will be a lot of overlap in between genders.

Both men’s and women’s teams from Argentina, Australia, Holland, England (or Team GB in the runup to an Olympics), Germany, India, and New Zealand have made the League. On the women’s side, the United States and China are in. On the men’s side, Pakistan and Belgium are in.

In the Hockey Pro League, the teams will have home-and-away fixtures with their opponents, which means that the U.S. women have to travel to each of their eight rivals, but could also host eight games in any number of places across the United States.

Certainly, the venues of choice would have to be Spooky Nook in Manheim, Pa.; the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in California; and the Regional Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va.

With the number of water-based turf surfaces that have sprung up across America the last decade or so, there is the interesting possibility that USA Field Hockey could use the elements to create a disadvantage to their opponents, such as playing a warm-weather opponent in Massachusetts in January, a sea-level opponent in Colorado Springs, or a cold-weather opponent in Kentucky in August.

I have always thought that field hockey needed to have home and away fixtures as a primary way to qualify for a World Cup or an Olympics, so as to gain sponsor and fan interest. But in this scenario, the Hockey Pro League will actually be a secondary avenue for qualification to world tournaments.

The six continental championship tournaments remain the primary qualifying competitions for Olympics of World Cups, with nonwinners qualifying either through the HPL or through the World League-style tournaments that are proposed for the nations not playing in the Hockey Pro League.

The one thing I don’t yet see in this structure is a transparent procedure for promotion and relegation. When you look at the 18 teams in the HPL, all of them are likely participants in every and any scenario leading to a World Cup or Olympics, and it would be very difficult for a Cinderella team like the Malaysian men’s team of 2014 or the China women’s team of 2008 to earn their way on their own into a world-level tournament without being the host nation.

In short, the HPL does little to dispel the reality that that there is a permanent class of field hockey teams which are difficult to dislodge from their positions by the rest of the world. I was hoping that the new league would democratize the situation somewhat.

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