'Reutilizing the best hockey venue for 2023 WC' says CEO Thierry Weil as FIH welcomes India to the Pro League
The Hockey Pro League - FIH's newest and most ambitious brainchild yet, took off in style in January 2019, as the top-ranked teams in the world, sans India, took on each other in a home and away format.
It was a first-of-its-kind tournament for world hockey which sought to encapsulate features of the now-defunct Champions Trophy and Hockey World League, but a cash-strapped Pakistan failed to board the expensive Pro League flight while neighbours India refused to sign up fearing it would impact their Olympic qualification chances.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since - and the 2020 edition of the Pro League will begin at the Kalinga Stadium with the Indians taking on the Netherlands in a dream opener.
FIH CEO Thierry Weil is understandably proud that the six-month long extravaganza was well received by the hockey fraternity, but is equally receptive to the oft-repeated grievances that were voiced by travel-weary players about the hectic schedules involved.
In an interaction with the Indian media ahead of the upcoming Pro League season, Weil unveils his long-term plans for the League and world hockey while defending the FIH's decision to award India with yet another World Cup.
The 2019 edition of the Pro League tested the depth of squads like never before with players having to expend energy by repeatedly shuttling across continents forcing the coaching staff to look for fresh pairs of legs ahead of vital matches.
Thankfully, the Indians will not have to endure what the Pro League teams experienced last season as travel has now been cut by half, according to Weil.
"We have decided to cut travel by half"
"I can really say after the first season that the Pro League was a success. Not only as measured by us - the FIH, but mainly measured by the players which is the most important in my view."
"When you listen to the interviews of the players, they always mentioned two elements - to say how great it was to play the Pro League against the best hockey teams in home games and to travel, as well, to see other countries."
"They also mentioned how tiring it was. That is why we listened to the players and that is why we were not shy to change the schedule for the 2020 edition of the tournament. We have decided to cut travel by half. So, one team will play two games against the other at home and the next season it will be vice versa."
The Pro League managed to draw in the crowds from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires earlier this year, but India's inclusion will take the fan following of the tournament to a whole new level - a fact, which Thierry Weil and the FIH are well aware of.
"The addition of India will be a massive step for us. We already had a lot of followers from India during the Pro League even though India were not part of the event in 2019."
"Now, we have the nine best teams, without exception, with India joining in."
"Grand Final being done away with"
Australia, Great Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands played a Grand Final in Amsterdam before the 2019 Pro League season concluded, but the concept of such a finale is now being done away with as teams will need more time to prepare for Tokyo 2020.
The Grand Final will not be repeated even after the Olympic year in the interest of maintaining consistency with regard to the format. As such, the team that picks up the most points will be declared the winners of the Pro League.
"The Pro League is a league that is played by the best teams in the world and the team that wins most games will end up to be first, second, third and so on," said Weil who is also pushing for a relegation system to be instituted into the League after four years.
"We have introduced the Intercontinental Cup which will currently include the next top-ranked eight teams and the winner could be promoted into the Pro League to make the Pro League accessible for everybody."
The schedule of the Pro League in the upcoming season will be quite different to that of the inaugural season with no matches slated for the first half of April.
Coach Max Caldas had a lot to do when a section of the Dutch camp had to choose between playing for club and country, in 2019, and the FIH is, no doubt, wiser now as the CEO explained.
Weil also said he hoped to be able to work out an international calendar which could be in place for a period of 6 to 8 years, keeping in mind club hockey, especially in Europe, but said he expected all the stakeholder to be prepared to give in just a bit.
"My biggest goal is to have an international calendar which will be there for the next four to six to eight years - it will never be perfect for everybody but everybody will have to give in a little bit and I am completely convinced that this is achievable."
About the Indians, allegedly, receiving preferential treatment from the FIH, Weil emphasized that the World Cup was open to bidders with some good bidders in the fray, but financial considerations did play a part especially to compensate the world body who had launched the elite Pro League.
India hosted the World Cup in 2010 - and following the success of Odisha 2018, the 2023 edition of the tournament will be held in Bhubaneswar again.
"India commercially relevant - FIH needs revenues to compensate for Pro League investment"
Re-utilizing a venue like Bhubaneswar - which Weil described as being the best in the world of hockey - was also a factor that prompted the FIH to choose India for the 2023 World Cup.
"To the best of my knowledge, it is the best venue we have and the biggest - we are happy that we will go back to Bhubaneswar and reutilize this venue."
"India, with it's commercial relevance, came into this bid with an extremely high financial contribution. The FIH needs some revenues to compensate for the investment into the Pro League and other events."
The FIH hopes to break even, in 2020, with regard to investments made for the Pro League, according to Thierry Weil.
Published 11 Dec 2019, 05:41 IST