Hockey Pro League

Pro League hits world hockey like a tsunami

From web-site fieldhockey.com published on Saturday. 17 June 2017 10:00

Hockey India League will also be affected by the Pro League
By Sameer Singh

The International Hockey Federation’s Pro League strategy has hit the sport like a tsunami, all set to disrupt the way the game has been played across the globe and disrupting the traditional calendar of the domestic leagues.

The FIH plans to keep aside the first six months of every calender year—from 2019 —for the nine-nation home and away Hockey Pro League, with matches played week in and week out. The professed aim is to fuel the growth of the game.

It will require a major realignment of not just the usual international calendar of events, but also throw the domestic competitions into disarray, including the Hockey India League. And it can rule out the chances of regular hockey players from playing a major part in indoor competitions, which form a staple portfolio for the European players.

Four years in the making, the Hockey Pro League has come up with a rider from the wise men of the FIH that has left the hockey world rattled. The FIH mandarins may have devised and adopted from top league in other sport, but seems to have entirely overlooked the domestic events structure across hockey’s three major continents: Europe, Asia and Oceania.

At the Hockey World League Semi-finals at the Olympic Park in London, hockey officials are talking in hushed tones about the impact of the FIH decision to dedicated six months from January to June for the international Pro League.

If countries still want to retain their traditional season, the domestic and the international games will have no link whatsoever. Losing the elite international players altogether, it could take away whatever sheen remains in domestic competitions,‘ he said.

‘Putting all their eggs in one basket may be the way forward for the FIH, which has decided to scrap even show-piece events like the Champions Trophy, but it might be a big risk for young hockey players just to focus on the professional playing career,‘ he asserted. ‘International players pursuing professional degrees at universities and practising professionals would probably now have to make a critical decision about sticking to hockey.‘

Other hockey folks were wondering whatever would happen to people whose primary professional careers are outside hockey!

An Argentine official, in London for the World League Semi-finals, wonders how the national associations will be able to retain the players for half the year without offering professional contracts, and if they all can afford to do it. ‘Not all countries offer their players full-time professional contracts. It may be fine for a few nations with deep pockets, but how are we all going to find the money,‘ he said.

The FIH had already made it known that the traditional structure of international tournaments, including show-piece events other than the World Cup, will have to make way for the Hockey Pro League, which will be confined to nine nations for men and women alike.

Outside these nine nations, from whom the FIH is looking at generating its finances as well, the rest of the hockey playing national might as well take a hike. If there are plans within the governing body for these countries, they are kept under wraps and would be far-fetched. Any plans for other contenders making the elite group of these nine nations will come into the frame years down the line.

In Europe, Asia and Oceania, the prime focus on hockey is during September to March. The national competitions and also the indoor season (in Europe) takes
place in these months.

The FlH’s devised time frame for matches ‘week-in and week-out‘ has also left some people bewildered.

Which teams would like to come to play international hockey in London in January or February, or for that matter who would look forward to playing at the National Stadium in New Delhi in June. Perhaps, the FIH knows a thing or two about the weather patterns.

About European leagues

– European League -the name league is a misnomer, it is actually a knock-out tournament played in the winters whose early rounds are played in September October— before the mid-winter break for indoor hockey season — and the finals are played in February-March.

– Holland and Belgium follow similar scheduling patterns – matches are played September to November, the mid-season break during which Indoor hockey takes over. Leagues resume in March and run until end-May or early-June.

– England follows a similar pattern, matches from September to November, followed by a break and indoor hockey. The English league resumes in February and ends in April.

– Germany- Pattern is not too different, but slight change as matches are played from March to June-July, a month’s break between July and August, the league games are played August until October. Field hockey takes a break from November,when Indoor hockey takes over (and continues until Feb-March).

Mumbai Mirror.

Comment

There are some issues that Sameer Singh has not mentioned in his thoughtful article and I also will no doubt miss others, but I will mention that the Chief Executive of the FIH has declared that the nations who will participate in the first round of the Pro League – the selected nine men’s and nine women’s National Teams – will do so without change for four years: so I presume that there will be no relegation from or promotion to the Pro League during this period. It is therefore inevitable that the results of a good many matches in the Pro League, especially in the first two or three years, will be irrelevant. Will such matches attract a large number of spectators or the interest of a television audience – not to mention the players?

What is going to happen after the initial four years? Another round of subjective selection of nations who will be invited to participate with perhaps only the first four placed in the last year of the initial rounds assured of a second invitation?

As the declared aim of the Pro League is to raise funds for the further development of hockey across the world there must be an obligation on the FIH to employ national level players involved in the Pro League on contracts for a remuneration that would not leave them worse off than they would have been in other full-time employment but at the same time, not be so high as to beggar national associations or clubs who try to persuade them to play other international hockey or in a domestic national league in the remaining time: a fine balancing act with problems to be resolved no matter where the remuneration bar is set. Are players to negotiate their own contracts and insurance? Will individuals require the services of agents?

I’m torn about what has been proposed. I believe a Pro League should have at least three divisions and involve a great many more national teams – maybe that will come in time. On the other hand I rue what is likely to be the beginning of the total destruction of domestic National League hockey or at least the level to which it is played. National League hockey could become like County hockey became in the UK after the introduction of the National League (or even the London League for the Home Counties). A level in which only up to U18 and club second team players, at Senior level, had any interest at all in participating – so it lost all hope of competing as a spectacle with the superior playing standard of the newly established leagues and was no longer a ‘stepping stone’ to international level hockey. I can recall playing at clubs where no-one in the club First Xl could be bothered to attend a County trial especially as getting selected would almost certainly mean missing some club League matches. Clubs sent 2nd Xl and even some 3rdXl players to County trials. Maybe selection to a club team participating in a National League will mean more to the players (besides remuneration) than playing in the Pro League but that seems unlikely and we may approach the point where international players may not be able to play for their clubs at all and therefore not be able to have a meaningful club affiliation. How will a downgraded National League provide players capable of competing at international level six or seven years from now? On the other hand, besides the increased possibility of injury, the workload imposed on international players – already very high – could become impossible and that could lead to a down-turn in the standard of international hockey as less experienced substitutes are drafted in.

The Pro League could be the best idea ever tried in hockey but it could equally be a disaster. We should have a better idea of which it will be after the second year of competition is concluded. It is to be hoped that what is said at that point, by players and clubs as well as by National Associations, will be listened to and acted upon.

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