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12 Jul 2019

FIH's dual events plan to broaden global appeal of field hockey

By Euan Cunningham

Thierry Weil, the chief executive of the FIH, field hockey's governing body, has revealed that two new tournaments on the organisation's radar for next year have been designed to broaden global interest in the sport and end accusations of elitism.

Weil (pictured) was speaking exclusively to Sportcal following a recent decision by the FIH executive board to introduce a World Cup, and accompanying World Tour, for the short-format Hockey5s discipline and Pro League 2, a second division to the national teams competition that successfully debuted earlier this year.

Five-a-side hockey (rather than the traditional 11-a-side) was included on the programme for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, where it received acclaim from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, but it is only now that the FIH is formulating a proper structure for the format.

The federation revealed earlier this month that plans are under way to develop a 'global Hockey5s event', which will involve nations from each continent attempting to qualify for a World Cup, with the aim of involving countries that have traditionally not received exposure on the world stage.

The FIH has 137 member associations, and Weil told Sportcal it is a means to get more of them playing “more games, and to compete at the highest level.”

He explained: “Some of the smaller countries only play Hockey5s; they have no other means of playing matches at the moment at global events, since they play different types of hockey as the rest of the world.

“We’ll end with a World Cup, as a means of enabling some countries to get exposure which may not have come their way before.”

Hockey5s, which is played on a pitch roughly half the size of a traditional one, has been used for several international youth tournaments in recent years, and is generally considered to be logistically an easier form of the game to play in developing nations.

In terms of financing the new competition, Weil, a former Fifa and Adidas executive, said the money will come from sponsorship and World Tour and World Cup host city fees.

The host of the inaugural 2020 Hockey5s World Cup is expected to be unveiled in December, when future host nations could also be announced to allow for long-term planning.

Weil said it has not yet been decided whether the FIH or the host organisers/national associations will be responsible for selling the sponsorhip packages. 

The FIH is now in the process of formulating a long-term growth plan for 5s through a 'World Tour,' albeit that is a working title.

Concurrently, the FIH is preparing to launch Pro League 2, with promotion and relegation to and from the top-tier, which featured nine men's and women's teams this year.

The Pro League launched in January with countries playing each other home and away. The Netherlands and Australia won the women's and men's titles, respectively, late last month. 

Weil said Pro League 2, slated for 2020, would help to dispel claims among the individual FIH member associations that the governing body is “just for the elite.”

The addition of the Pro League 2, featuring developing nations, Weil stated, would make the competition as a whole “available to all teams… We need relegation from the Pro League for example, we need incentive for the teams at the bottom just like those at the top.”

The second-tier will differ in format from the top league by comprising two groups competing in a round-robin format, with the two group winners playing a final to decide which team earns promotion to the Pro League. 

Weil added: “You have to make it sustainable for all teams, and we really had to think about financial considerations when devising the format.

“If it proves to be financially viable then we might think about moving it to the same system as the Pro League, but at the moment that’s not something we can think about for the next two or three years.”

The Hockey5s World Cup and Pro League 2 form part of wider plans by the FIH to bring more structure to what at times has been a disorganised international hockey calendar.

He continued: “It’s a problem with hockey in general, not having an international calendar that is fixed for four years, so people can know what tournaments are happening a long time in advance.

“We need better advance planning… we need to work with the continental confederations and the individual members to create this calendar.”

Weil also confirmed that the current FIH ranking system for nations, which is updated only after every tournament, will now be continually updated on a game-by-game basis, and will therefore offer smaller countries the chance to improve their rankings after playing fixtures against each other.

Weil added that this was aimed at “helping those smaller nations pick up more financial contributions” from national sporting committees, which can be based on a team’s spot in the world rankings.