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.