According to five time World Player of the year, Jamie Dwyer, 2015 is the time for the the Hockey India League ‘to thrive rather than survive,’ and the way the tournament has started he may well be bang on the money.
Despite a break in activity for many of the international players leading into this year’s tournament, all have come to India looking fit and committed, which is a credit to them all. All of the players can hold their heads up for what has been achieved in the first two years of the competition.
The premise behind the Hockey India League was to expose young Indian talent to the best players in the world, and have them learn from that interaction, with the hope that Indian Hockey can start the long climb back to the top at international level.
In 2014 Indian Hockey had one of its best years on the International stage. It won Silver at the Commonwealth Games after a 9th place finish at the World Cup. Then came a gold medal at the Asian Games which meant India became the first team to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016. India had not won gold since 1998, so this was a huge achievement. Then to round off the year the senior team beat Australia in a test seres in Australia, and finished fourth at the Champions Trophy to the same opponent, while their junior counterparts won the Sultan of Johor Cup becoming the first team to retain the title; most of that side having never been outside of India before the tournament.
The benefits of the Hockey India League are already becoming clear, and they go beyond the Indian players. The money the Australian players earn means that they can dedicate themselves to the task of keeping the Kookaburras as the number one ranked team in the world. Their financial reward for such an achievement pales into insignificance compared to their counterparts in sports such as cricket, rugby, AFL or football. Sadly that is unlikely to change in the near future. Something that mystifies the Indian hockey fans, that a World Champion team is not lauded and given the rewards due to them.
The Hero Hockey India League is crucial to the game on so many levels, and not just to Indian and Australian Hockey. The game itself needs the exposure, and the revolutionary coverage that Star Sports have invested heavily in, in order to make it more appealing to a wider audience. The reality is when India Failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics no television network would pay for the coverage of Hockey. That is why the eight year deal between the FIH and Star is crucial to lifting the game as a whole, just as Kerry Packer’s World Series has proved to be for Cricket.
There are plans for the League to expand in 2016 and if it does it is vital that the Franchises have access to their foreign imports earlier in order to enable them to help market their franchise earlier than ten days before the tournament starts. The Franchisees have invested in their teams and need to be given the best opportunity to see a return on that investment, or like many other Franchise based leagues they will pull out and leave what is proving a hugely successful and high quality competition struggling for credibility.
The future looks bright for what is undoubtedly becoming the best hockey league in the World, but if as Jamie Dwyer has stated it is to thrive all parties must work together for the greater good of the competition.