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Archive for January 19, 2019

Jan. 19, 2019 — The start of a risky road

This morning at 7 a.m., in Valencia, Spain, a whistle will blow and there will be a familiar whisking together of composite sticks against a plastic ball on a water-based artificial turf.

The 2019 FIH Pro League will start with current FIH men’s World Cup holders Belgium going against host Spain in the first game of a long, bifurcated road to the 2020 Olympics.

As things stand now, there are three avenues to qualification for the Olympics:

  1. Host nation
  2. Continental champion
  3. Win a two-game series as a qualifier from either the Hockey Pro League or the FIH Hockey Series

No. 3, for me, is a bit of a head-scratcher. For all of what the FIH Pro League is supposed to engender (television rights, sponsorships, home support to engender), the League only qualifies four teams into the final round of Olympic qualifications. Meanwhile, the Hockey Series, which are three eight-nations tournaments being held this summer, will qualify six total teams.

Now, there’s one wrinkle that’s already happened on the men’s and the women’s side: because Japan is the host nation and swept last fall’s Asia Cups, there is one more slot for each gender to contest for final qualifications. The qualifiers for those games will be the next-highest spot in world ranking.

In addition, there is another wrinkle. The last couple of Olympic cycles, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee has prevented both the men’s and women’s teams from playing in the Olympics, citing the low level of competition in the African Olympic qualification tournament.

It could very well be that mid-level women’s teams like the United States, China, Belgium, and South Korea could be in for tremendous fights in the final round of qualifying should they fail to win their continental qualifying tournaments.

And, it could very well be that a highly-ranked team not already qualified (New Zealand? China?) will get back-doored into the Olympics on world ranking.

So, bearing in mind that it may be possible to “back in” to an Olympic berth at several junctures in this process, let the games begin.