It has been an eventful week for Indian hockey. Just two days after signing 10 Australian players, Hockey India has signed 9 players from New Zealand, 8 from South Africa and 4 players from Germany, who’ll join 14 Pakistan players and 90 Indian players, to be chosen in 6 teams for Hockey India League, beginning on January 15.
The signings by Hockey India League come as a big blow to the Indian Hockey Federation backed World Series Hockey, which is already facing a lot of trouble with the players and the FIH, hockey’s world governing body. The star signings by Hockey India League is threatening to turn World Series Hockey into hockey’s ICL.
After the debacle in London, something big was needed to rediscover hockey’s charm in India, and facing threat from WSH, Hockey India came out with its own league, which now has the star power of Jamie Dwyer, Moritz Fuertse, Dean Couzins and Justin Reid-Ross.
India, where star power draws big crowds, Hockey India has hit the bull’s eye by signing most of the big names of world hockey. It is a clear fact that the league is as good as the players. If we take the example of cricket, Indian Premier League is bigger than Bangladesh Premier League or Sri Lanka Premier League, simply because of one reason – star power. All the big names in the world of cricket either play or want to play in IPL, which makes it the best T20 tournament in the world. Hockey India League, which is based on IPL, has signed all the big names of international hockey. It means World Series Hockey, who cashed in on the growing interest in hockey after India’s qualification in the Olympics, will once again have to work with the younger players, like they did the last time.
Compared to last year, the scenario has totally changed. Last year, hockey fandom was at its peak after Olympics qualification and everyone wanted more hockey. But today, after a disastrous performance in London Olympics, the optimism has hit its nadir and the fans of hockey have decreased drastically. Even some of the die-hard fans have said goodbye to the game.
So, the only thing that will attract the crowds once again to hockey, is the player power and clearly, World Series Hockey does not have the same to attract the crowd.
Apart from the player power, another thing against World Series Hockey, is the lack of backing from FIH. Hockey India League enjoys full support of FIH and the world governing body has even carved out a separate window for the cash rich tournament, which will allow players from every nation to compete in it. On the other hand, World Series Hockey, under Indian Hockey Federation has been declared an unsanctioned tournament which is keeping the players away.
One of the major attractions of last year’s tournament was the participation of players from Pakistan, who dazzled the crowds with their skills and earned many fans. This time though, even the Pakistan players, who participated in the first season of WSH, will miss the action as the dates of second edition of World Series Hockey clashes with the 2nd edition of Asian Champions Trophy. And surely, people would rather watch the best in Asia compete in a tournament rather than watching a league with no big names.
No doubt that World Series Hockey came as a boon for Indian hockey, as it has brought some new and exciting talent along with reinstating some previously discarded players. Gurjinder Singh, Harpal Singh, Karan Bhaskaran, Lalit Upadhyay, Devinder Walmiki are just few of the young guns who stole the show by showcasing their talent. Even they must feel that their time with World Series Hockey is up. Every player has just one dream – representing his county, and same must be the case with the young players who were part of first season of WSH. Despite performing really well in the league and the recently concluded national hockey championships, these players find themselves out of the probable list (at best, on a ‘standby list’) due to just one reason – that they played in WSH and thus, were banned for 1 year. And with Hockey India League coming and the players getting good money, it will be not be easy for World Series Hockey to hang on to these players.
Right now, everything seems to be going against World Series Hockey and if it has to prosper, or even survive, then it can just hope that FIH restores IHF as the National Sports Federation for hockey in India. But going by the current scenario, the balance is heavily tilted in the favour of Hockey India.