Asian Games 2018: Road to the Tokyo Olympics for Indian hockey
Right from the beginning of the year, the Indian coaches have been seemingly obsessed with the Asian Games more than any other tournament.
The Commonwealth Games, they said was an important tournament to prepare for the Asian Games and several people had trouble comprehending how the precious Champions Trophy too was deemed to be a preparatory event for Jakarta.
Yet, both Sjoerd Marijne and Harendra Singh were quite right in placing the Asian Games at the top of their agenda, as a gold in Jakarta would have confirmed their place in the Tokyo Olympics well in advance, and also ensured that the teams had enough time to gear up for the huge event.
The Asian Games is the only qualification tournament which is scheduled for 2018 while all the other continental qualifiers are slotted for next year - hence, a gold in the Asiad gives the winner a lot more time to prepare.
The Indian girls made it to the London World Cup by winning the Asia Cup women's event last year, and the Indian men did not necessarily need a win being the hosts of the Men's World Cup but did win the men's event anyway.
What both teams have failed to do, however, is to win the Asian Games which would have confirmed a direct ticket to Tokyo.
Eleven teams (apart from hosts Japan) are eligible to qualify for the men's and women's events for the 2020 Olympics.
Now, here is the interesting part, since the Japanese men and women have both won gold at Jakarta.
The FIH rules specify that should the Host Nation Japan be highest placed in the 18th Asian Games 2018, the second-placed nation does not subsequently qualify, and the quota place will be allocated to the Olympic Qualification Events.
The Indian women who ended as the runners-up, will therefore not gain direct entry, and will instead have to play the Olympic Qualification Events, as indeed will the Indian men's team.
So, what lies ahead, and how can Sjoerd Marijne and Harendra Singh guide their respective sides to the Olympics?
For a start, let us briefly take a look at the various continental championships across the world which ensure direct qualification for the Olympics.
What are the continental championships for men?
Africa: African Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament 2019
America: 18th Pan American Games 2019
Asia: 18th Asian Games 2018
Europe: 17th European Nations Championship for Men 2019
Oceania: 11th Men’s Oceania Cup 2019
What are the continental championships for women?
Africa: Africa Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament 2019
America: 18th Pan American Games (Women’s Hockey competition) 2019
Asia: 18th Asian Games (Women’s Hockey competition) 2018
Europe: 14th European Nations Championship for Women
Oceania 11th Women’s Oceania Cup 2019
Five men's teams and five women's teams will thus gain direct qualification for the Olympics in addition to hosts Japan.
How will countries which have failed to win the continental events qualify for the Olympics?
For all countries which do not make it to Tokyo via the continental qualifiers (such as India), an elaborate round of Olympic Qualification events will be held as below, to determine which of the teams take up the remaining 6 places, in the men's and women's events, of the 12-nation tournament.
Olympic Qualification Events:
The top 4 teams from the 2019 edition of the Hockey Pro League, the 2 highest-placed teams of the three Hockey Series Finals of 2019, and the 2 top-ranked teams in the FIH World Rankings (who have not qualified) at the end of the 2019 Continental Championships will be drawn to play a series of matches.
What is the Hockey Pro League?
In simple terms, the Hockey World League will now be replaced by the Hockey Pro League. Nine teams will play home-and-away matches with a round-robin format, and four of these teams will advance to the final round.
Nine teams, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Spain are part of both the men's and women's Hockey Pro League. Pakistan is part of the men's edition only while China is part of the women's edition only.
India is the only major side which is not part of the HPL and will have to qualify via the Hockey Series.
What is the Hockey Series?
All countries which are part of the International Hockey Federation are eligible to play the Hockey Series Open as long as they are not part of the Hockey Pro League. In the future, the Hockey Series Open will act as a qualifying tournament for the World Cup as well.
The tournament will be played in two stages - namely, the Hockey Series Open, and the Hockey Series Finals.
The Hockey Series Open for the men is currently underway in several venues such as Salamanca, Singapore, Zagreb, Port Villa, Gniezno, Lousada, Santiago, and Lahore.
The Hockey Series Open for the women is also on at Salamanca, Singapore, Port Villa Wattignes, and Vilnius.
The top 9 teams in the world, as per the FIH World Rankings need not play the Hockey Series, and will instead advance to the Hockey Finals.
The Hockey Series Finals
A total of 24 teams (including 15 from the Open round ) will qualify for the Finals. The Finals will then be divided into 3 separate events comprising 8 teams each.
The top 2 teams from each of the 3 Hockey Open Finals will qualify for the Olympic qualification events where they will be joined by the top 4 teams of the Hockey Pro League.
In addition, the two highest-ranked teams as per FIH World Rankings, (at the end of the 2019 Continental Championships) who have not qualified will then be drawn to play each other.
The top 6 teams from the above qualification event will then join the 5 (and hosts Japan) who have made it via the continental championships.
The Indian men and women have a monumental task ahead of them and will also have a busy season next year, as they have to first prepare for the qualification events instead of preparing for the Olympic Games.