Hockey Pro League vs Series Finals: How will FIH's new ranking points affect India?
As a result of new plans drawn up by the FIH (International Hockey Federation), the game is now experiencing several exciting new changes.
As a result of the alterations, however, some epic tournaments will be sorely missed by hockey lovers around the world.
The prestigious Champions Trophy where the elite of the hockey world matched their wits annually (and subsequently biennially) is no longer part of the hockey calendar.
The Hockey World League is also history, and teams will battle it out for ranking points and Olympic qualification via the Hockey Pro League and Hockey Series Open (and Finals).
As part of the Hockey Pro League, teams like Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Spain, who are part of both the men's and women's editions, will play home-and-away matches with a round-robin format, and four of these teams will advance to the final round of the Olympic qualifiers.
The only notable member not in the exclusive club is India, who decided to opt out of the Pro League, and since both the Indian men and women failed to earn direct qualification for the Tokyo Olympics, they will now have to attempt to get there via the FIH Series Finals beginning in June.
While qualifying for Tokyo 2020 will be the primary aim for hockey nations worldwide, earning valuable ranking points along the way will be just as vital - but Is the playing field level - and what prompted some nations to choose the Pro League ahead of the others?
Seigfried Aikman whose Japanese side is currently playing a three-nation invitational in Chile spoke to Sportskeeda to shed some valuable light on the subject.
Japan did not necessarily need to win the Asian Games to qualify for the Olympics, but did so anyway, with both the men and women winning gold at Jakarta.
The host nation now awaits the winners of the four remaining continental championships and the other teams who will make it to Tokyo by playing the Olympic qualifiers.
The top two teams from three legs each of the men's and women's editions of the Hockey Series Finals, the top four teams from the Hockey Pro League, and the two highest-ranked teams as per the FIH World Rankings, (at the end of the 2019 Continental Championships) who have not qualified for the Olympics will lock horns to make it to Tokyo.
As far as the ranking-point system is concerned, it is evident from the data below that the ranking points accorded to the FIH Pro League are higher than those for the Hockey Series Finals - is that fair?
"It is normal that the highest league gets the most points," said Aikman. "The Pro League, however, is an invitational tournament and not based on the world rankings."
"The teams with money can participate, and some teams without the money, like Pakistan and Spain, joined for the benefits of the world-ranking points, and the opportunity to play many matches against strong teams which enables growth."
"The only problem is that they might get into financial trouble. By the way, even for the rich teams, it is a challenge to survive, but that is their own responsibility."
"What I do not like is that an invitational league gives huge advantages in quality improvement, world ranking points, and through that, easier qualification for the World Cup and the Olympics. It is strange and highly unfair."
So, will the new ranking points make it difficult for India to maintain their world rankings? We asked the FIH master coach for his opinion on the issue.
"Yes, it will, because they will not participate (in the Hockey Pro League), but they have an advantage, as many times, they host important tournaments, or get a wildcard. So, India is safe but other countries are not."
India has, indeed, hosted several important tournaments for the men like the Champions Trophy, Hockey World League, and World Cup, but whether or not the women's team receive the same benefits remains to be seen.
As per reports, the Indian men will be part of the Hockey Pro League from 2021 onwards and will be included as the tenth team. Qualification for the Hockey World Cup of 2022 will be via the Hockey Pro League.
Until then, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Indians are able to latch onto (or improve upon) their world rankings with the new points system in place.
Both the Indian men and women rose to their highest-ever positions in the FIH rankings last year. While the Golden Girls are currently ranked ninth, the Indian men are placed in the fifth slot.