They say a week is a long time in Politics, but it would appear much can change in a month in sport.
On June 11th the International Hockey Federation (FIH) announced the nine men’s and women’s teams that were selected to compete in their new international competition, The Pro League, due to start in January 2019. In the men’s competition Australia, New Zealand, India, Argentina, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Pakistan and England were the teams chosen. All had until midnight June 30th to sign their participation agreements.
On June 18th India played arch rival Pakistan at the Hockey World league semi-finals in London. The team caused some controversy by wearing black armbands in the game. It appeared that this had been done without the correct permissions from the FIH or the tournament organisers, although it is believed post match that the CEO and the President of the FIH were in fact aware of the decision to wear the armbands.
More controversy followed the next day on June 19th when the President of the FIH, and former President of Hockey India, made comments on his personal Facebook page which the FIH had to distance themselves from, and the President later apologised for. However despite the apologies it is believed that some nations are now questioning the safety of their players playing in India. As a result of this situation, the Hockey World League Finals later this year and World Cup in 2018, both hosted by India, could be effected.
Leading up to the June 30th deadline it is believed that Hockey India raised some last minute issues before they were prepared to sign the participation agreement. Discussions were held amongst key members of the FIH and despite the deadline passing Hockey India signed up to be a part of the Pro League.
On July 6th, just under a week after ceding to many of Hockey India’s concerns the FIH are believed to have been stunned to receive an official complaint from Hockey India. The complaint raised accusations of match-fixing attempts during recently held Hockey World League Semi Final in London.
It was reported that the complaint centres around the questioning of Sardar Singh during the tournament and Hockey India claims that this was an attempt to not just affect the player but also India’s performance.
Despite the story being picked up by most news outlets in India, some saw this as a smokescreen for the disappointing performances put out by the team in their final two outings in London, where the number six ranked team in the World, India, lost to Malaysia (ranked 14) and then Canada (ranked 11). India who were the third highest ranked side in the tournament finished a disappointing sixth.
None however could have been ready for the bombshell that was dropped later in the day. The FIH received official notification that India was now withdrawing from the Pro League.
Despite heavy investment in India since the 2008 Olympic Games when the Indian team failed to qualify for the first time, and the FIH agreeing to host a major tournament in India each year since 2012 as part of a plan to rejuvenate hockey in its spiritual home, it is believed that the FIH has accepted the decision made by Hockey India to withdraw. They have since communicated the situation to all National Associations.
There are many in the game who felt that the FIH and Hockey India’s close working relationship had been detrimental to the game as a whole. It would appear that this relationship is now well and truly at an end.
As for those who felt that India was the financial lifeblood of the game, now we will see if that really was the case, or if the FIH have indeed other revenue streams on which they can rely. Hopefully their sponsorship team can go and broker deals to carry the game forward into and beyond the Pro League.
No doubt more will be revealed in the future as to what led to India’s reversal on being a part of The Pro League and the impact this will have on the competition as a whole, and which nation will come in and replace them. We will all have to wait to hear…