The International Hockey Federation made a decision at the weekend to change the format of the game as we know it. A move that has split opinion, some applauding it other traditionalists are far from happy about it.
The changes will see hockey become a game of four 15 minute quarters with a two minute break between the first and second and third and fourth and a ten minute break at half time. This is to be initially introduced to Asian games which are Olympic qualifiers.
The change is not totally new to the game, as the now defunct World Series Hockey was the first to introduce quarters as well as time outs. The Hero Hockey India League also broke the game down into quarters but both of these competitions played seventeen and a half minutes per quarter, meaning the length of a game remained at 70 minutes. The new format will see 10 minutes shaved off of every game.
The one thing the quarter concept has shown is that coaches can change their tactics easier in a game and matches have become far more tactical and tend to swing one way and the other more frequently.
There are many who ask why established games such as hockey have to make such changes; the answer is to keep the game alive.
Sadly Hockey despite its pace, excitement and skill does not receive the television coverage the sport warrants. For some nations the only coverage that their national team will ever receive is at the Olympic Games. Linked to this fact all hockey playing nations – even World Number one Australia – have their government funding linked to Olympic Qualification.
Many will find it hard to believe but Hockey’s place at the Olympic Games was recently in jeopardy, despite having been involved as an Olympic sport since the 1928 Amsterdam Games. In 2008 when eight time Gold medal winner India failed to qualify for the Beijing Games, the FIH could not find a television station prepared to buy the coverage of the Olympic coverage. All the qualifying nations official broadcasters were happy to take the coverage but were not prepared to pay for it.
It was at this point the IOC and the FIH realised the position that Hockey was in and had to try and find a way to make the game more appealing to a wider audience.
The Hero Hockey India League in 2014 was another step down that path with Star Sports in India investing more money in its hockey coverage than has ever been seen before. The aim was to try and highlight the wonderful skills of the players who play this great game and draw the audience closer to the action to see these skills at close quarters. With 22 cameras covering each game, more than had ever been used before the transformation was incredible. The feedback from fans was positive and being closer to the action appealed to sports fans who had previously only skirted with the sport.
However such coverage comes at a cost. Twenty two cameras and operators cost a great deal more than the standard six or eight. Hence commercial breaks are the ideal way for the television companies to recoup some of those costs.
It may on the surface appear that these changes to the structure of the game itself are unnecessary, but in truth they are vital to ensure that not only does Hockey remain an Olympic sport but that its appeal grows to a wider audience. It is a shame that the game’s duration will not longer be 70 minutes, but if the loss of these ten minutes ensure a brighter future for the game as a whole then it is a small price to pay.