No HIL, Equals Hockey In Limbo

There will be no Hockey India League in 2018, if word out of India is correct. It is believed that last week Hockey India sent notice to the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to advise that there would be no League competition in 2018.

This may not come as a shock to many close to the sport as it is believed that many of the players who participated in last year’s event are still awaiting payment of wages or bonuses. Add to that the fact that the owners of Jaypee Cement sponsors and owners of the Jaypee Punjab Warriors have financial and legal issues they are dealing with, and the word that Sahara only wanted to be involved in one franchise rather than two, the Ranchi Rays and Uttar Pradesh Wizards, this may not be news that comes completely out of the blue. Yet it is a major blow not only to World Hockey but also Indian Hockey.

On a global level players from countries such as Australia relied on the five week tournament to give them enough income to focus solely on hockey and their university studies; the scholarships that they receive from the Australian Institute of Sport not being enough to support them for a year.

To add to Australian Hockey’s woes the funding for the sport was cut heavily post the Rio Olympic Games under the Winning Edge program, ironically put together in part by Hockey Australia’s new CEO, so funds were already tight. Now players could be faced with a hard decision, International hockey or their career. Players from other nations who have used the wages from the Hockey India League to support their playing careers will also be in a similar position.

This could not have come at a worse time for the FIH as they set about finalising the details for the new Pro League featuring nine international men’s and Women’s teams playing in a global league over six months. There was already immense pressure on National associations to find the money not only to participate, but to remunerate their players for such a commitment, now without the money from the HIL the pressure will be ratcheted up a few notches.

Also the question has to be asked who will pay those players contracted to play in 2018? Will that fall to the individual franchises or will the players join a possible list of debtors? Will Hockey India do the right thing and as the owners of the league and those responsible for running the competition, pay out the contracts and then chase the Franchise owners? Surely the FIH will not be asked to step in and assist?

Despite the affect that this news will have on the international players in the HIL it is most likely to have a huge impact on the Indian players.

At the 2012 Olympic Games in London India failed to win a single game. It was the eight-time Olympic Champion’s worst performance ever; only worse was in 2008 when they failed to qualify.

The Hockey India League was announced in 2012 and commenced in 2013 with the full endorsement of the FIH. There were five teams in the league originally, at the start of season two this increased to six teams. Every single game was shown live by Star Sports who invested heavily in the competition.

Suddenly the cream of young Indian talent was playing under some of the best coaches in the world and alongside the best international players. It was plain to see how some players flourished alongside the world’s best. Surender Kumar at Delhi Waveriders had a great HIL season alongside Great Britain’s Iain Lewers and forced his way into the national squad. SV Sunil, Satbir Singh and Affan Yusof also clearly benefitted from time at The Jaypee Punjab Warriors playing with the likes of Jamie Dwyer, Matt Gohdes, Kieran Govers and Simon Orchard. While current captain Manpreet Singh has never been shy to share how much he learned from playing alongside former Germany Captain Moritz Fuerste.

One thing that was disappointing was the fact that none of the experienced international coaches were asked to complete player reports on the Indian players at the end of each HIL season and highlight parts of their game they needed to work on. Many bemoaning the fact that a year later they had to go over the same technique or positional issues that they had covered a year earlier.

Yet Indian Hockey flourished due to the exposure. Some may argue that a deal brokered with the FIH that has seen the final of a major event hosted by India every year, which in turn has meant India has an automatic berth has helped more, but the performances of the national team have continually improved.

At the Hockey World League Finals in Raipur in 2015 India not only defeated the defending Champion, the Netherlands, but recorded their first podium finish in a major international competition for 33 years; Regional Asian competitions not included. Then in 2016 they went one better and won silver at the Champions Trophy taking the final to a shoot out after keeping the World Number one Australians to a 0-0 draw. Also in 2016 at the Rio Olympics they made the quarter finals and finished 8th, up four from 2012. In the same year their junior side under the guidance of Harendra Singh, who had also won the HIL, won the Junior World Cup for just the second time in the competition’s history. India’s World ranking in the five years post-London from 2012 to 2017 had gone from ninth to sixth.

There is no doubt that the Hockey India League played a huge part in that success. Indian players were no longer in awe of other international players, they also knew their game.

The end of the HIL would not be so worrying if in the five years of the league a development program had been implemented to bring through the next generation of players. Sadly the game is still relying on the existing academies to uncover the talent and start polishing it. Yet to compete on the world stage the players need so much more such as exposure to things such as diet, fitness and even rolling substitutions. At junior level teams are still playing two periods of 35 minutes as opposed to four 15 minute periods.

Just two days ago when asked if Indian players coming from a lower middle class background lacked game awareness new High Performance Director, David John told the Times Of India, “No, I don’t think so. I think it’s lack of exposure, two different game styles as they have come up through academies which teach differently. We expose them to more scenarios and I think Hockey India league has been fantastic -certainly for the men -because they had that experience of working with the Germans, the Dutch and Belgians and working with Australians and receive that just sitting, talking, listening. They learn so much.”

Yet now it would appear the HIL is no more, at least in 2018. So what will replace that development tool? What impact will its loss have on the development of Indian players? Will we now see more Indian players playing in overseas leagues?

Can the League come back in 2019? Having shut down once will the players have the faith in the reincarnation?

As stated this news could not have come at a worse time for the FIH or the players. Both parties, and the national associations are going to have to sit down and find a financial solution that sees the players paid a wage that enables them to focus solely on their sport. The new league is called “The Pro League,” it makes no sense having a competition named this and having amateurs participating. At the end of the day without the players you have no game, it is vital that the players are looked after even more so if there is no HIL.

No HIL, Equals Hockey In Limbo

4 thoughts on “No HIL, Equals Hockey In Limbo

  • July 8, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Will, thank you for taking the time to comment.

    I agree that the FIH must step in and sanction India if monies owed are not paid, as this was a FIH approved tournament. We cannot have such a situation arising anywhere in the world. Without the players we have nothing.

    Again I agree that the situation has got completely out of hand and the match fixing allegations are in my opinion preposterous. My understanding is that several nations have already stated that whether they compete at the Hockey World League finals or the World Cup next year is questionable, as they feel that the inflammatory comments have put the players safety at risk. My personal view is the World Cup should definitely be moved.

    You talk about the stranglehold India has had and that is a big issue. Playing in India takes a lot out of the players and some who have played HIL are tired of two trips there a year. An event every year was never a good idea. I also believe it has effected India’s performance as they no longer have to qualify for all of these tournaments and now lack that intensity to win important games. The sad thing is many at the top believed that India was the only place that had the money to keep the game in the black. If that is so one has to question what the Sponsorship department was doing as how many new sponsors have we heard of coming on board?

    I have grave concerns too with the Pro League, and that key aspects have not been thought through. It would appear that money is there from television, but this must be filtered back to the players. As you say it is vital that the nations outside the top ten are encouraged to close the gap on the top teams, and that in turn will make the sport stronger. It is encouraging to see Japan, Canada, Malaysia and Ireland – who I know are in the top 10- all showing signs of becoming stronger and a force to be reckoned with. The sport needs more of these teams and they need investment from the FIH.

    I would have liked to have seen more comment from the FIH on many of the recent issues, but it cannot have helped that the CEO went on holiday during the Hockey World League semi finals in London just as the storm broke. Surely at such a time most CEO’s would have cancelled their holiday and put the sport first?

    Interesting times…

  • July 7, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Dear Ashley,

    Nice reading your article and insight from your position and views with reference to Australia’s participants in the HIL.

    While this may on the surface appear to be a negative and disappointing position, which it no doubt is, it may also be the correction international hockey needs. Surely FIH must be proactive in ensuring the players are paid their contracted money from last season. Given Hockey India is the responsible body for getting this event sanctioned, responsibility must exist with them, and FIH must hold them accountable. This will test those senior at FIH who have failed to hold Hockey India accountable to the same stringent criteria, as they have the rest of the world. Their ability to do so now remains highly questionable. Let’s not forget Argentina was stripped of hosting events when, out of their control, the government changed and sponsorship deals were altered. It is believed further sanctions were also threatened, an indication of how quickly FIH can turn on those who no longer provide them the financial support they are screaming for.

    It is no secret that a severe correction of international hockey is needed. The answer is not the Pro League either, as you correctly indicate is contradictory in its naming given no athlete will earn an income at all. If the rumor mill is true, then the League is no certainty of getting up and running.
    To return to the topic, the men’s game needs to get away from India. The recent public behavior from the FIH President should be of large concern. And the recent match-fixing allegation by Hockey India pertaining to the legal right of an English citizen to report a matter to the police, presents an uncertain environment for any team to tour too. FIH must consider the welfare of the athletes and the environments that they submit them too. So while it is unfortunate that the HIL is potentially finished, it may be the impetus to remove the strangle hold over the game from this region.

    Moreover, what are the hockey nations doing to pressure FIH on the conduct of the president? Hopefully more than they did to advise against the obscenely cost prohibitive Pro League, which will only send nations broke, make players choose between work / study or playing for their country and create an un-repairable divide between those in the league and those who are not. As well as destroy grassroots and club hockey in our region here.
    It’s the nations that vote for the President and the FIH Board, which given it’s lack of independent members, is another of FIH’s governance failings. One would imagine that the nations are very unhappy about the current climate that their sport is in. Hopefully they are lobbying their board and IOC members to ensure that top down pressure is applied to FIH to ensure they act appropriately here. Not that hockey needs any further negative publicity with the IOC, as you suggest, and especially in Australia.

    The spotlight is on FIH. Again. And their credibility hinges on their actions in the immediate future. From what is understood, they don’t have many more chances, or any larger than this, to indicate their ability to appropriately govern and run an international sport.

  • July 4, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    First of all thank you for your kind words. I am glad that my involvement has made you watch the game more and I hope you appreciate how great a game it is.

    I agree that this should not happen and you are right that other sports have such a system and from the players perspective it would appear that they needs such a mechanism. Maybe it is time like other sports they need to have a Players representative body that negotiates on their behalf.

  • July 4, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    How can players not be paid? I have a passing interest in hockey in the main since you started commentating the game, but no athlete should not be paid.

    Surely Hockey India if they are the governing body and running the competition should be ensuring that every player is paid by an agreed time all that is owed. If they are not the players then can go to the FIH who steps in and penalises Hockey India for not administering their clubs. This happens in other sports and can see international teams suspended. Why not in Hockey?

    It would appear to be more important in Hockey as the players are paid far less.

    It would indeed be a shame if it did not continue but who wants to play in a league where you have to fight for what is rightfully yours? Missed your commentary on it this year, which meant it did not appear as exciting.

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