Several weeks ago when we ran a story advising that it looked as if there would be no Hockey India League in 2018, (No HIL, Equals Hockey in Limbo)there was an uproar amongst Hockey fans that the highest paid league for players was coming to a halt after five seasons.
This came about after Hockey India were alleged to have sent an email to the governing body the International Hockey Federation on June 29th advising them that there would be no HIL in 2018.
At the time there were questions raised as to why such a decision had been made, but as time has passed it is believed that Hockey India was concerned that the FIH run Indoor World Cup clashed with the proposed dates for the League, and that some of the key foreign players would make themselves unavailable, and attention would be diverted from the Hockey India League.
In 2015 the Indoor World Cup also clashed with the HIL, and maybe the current stance is based on the impact of the two events clashing then.
When it was set up, the Hockey India League was a sanctioned FIH tournament and it is believed that one of the agreements was that it would have a dedicated window in which it would operate to attract maximum television coverage. If this was indeed the case one can understand why the Franchise owners were a little miffed that another tournament was organised at the same time in 2018.
Although to say that this was the only issue would be papering over the cracks. As mentioned in that original article the competition has been hampered by a lack of marketing, and a number of the franchises have had issues in their every day affairs.
One plus we hear since the original article is that some franchises have since paid the outstanding monies to their players; albeit five months after the tournament ended.
It is understood that a meeting will be held this week and an announcement made which is likely to confirm that there will be no HIL in 2018, but that the tournament will return in November 2019.
The change of month will be so that the league does not go head-to-head with the FIH’s new international Pro League which launches in January 2019.
There could be issues with the November dates for the New Zealand and Australian players. There is currently a Memorandum of Understanding between India and Australia, which covers players being available for the HIL, as well as an annual Test series. However the November dates could coincide with Australia’s national competition; although this usually is played in October. Would Australia look to bring that tournament forward? Would they allow International players to head straight to India at the end of the National Championships for a camp, play the HIL and then come straight into the Pro League?
Certainly financially Hockey Australia needs the players to earn the money they do in the HIL, but surely not to the detriment of the Australian Hockey League, which went through a revamp in 2016, or in relation to their performances in the showpiece Pro-League. However there is no doubt that these issues can be sorted out with open dialogue between all parties.
Of course. if the players that participate in the Pro League are paid as full time athletes, and the television revenue is shared by the FIH with the National Associations, then suddenly the need to be a part of the HIL, and receive the financial rewards the league offers would be less.
There will be some national coaches who may be loathe to let their top players head to India to play in a month long tournament a month before the Pro League starts. They may want them at home and in camp. This is bound to be the case for those nations and players who celebrate the Christmas holidays, as they will no doubt have a break from training to be with their families at such a time.
Hopefully though, if the HIL does indeed have a break in 2018 a working party of players, coaches, franchise owners, and key members of Star Sports – if still the broadcast partner – and other media outlets can sit down as a collective group and look at the best way to elevate what is a great tournament, and ensure that it receives the coverage and recognition it deserves, not just in India, but across the globe.
The HIL could very easily ride on the wave of interest that the Pro League will have generated at the start of 2019, and with the Pro League coming straight after the HIL they too could prosper from the HIL. Not only would both leagues benefit, but also the game as a whole. All it needs is a strategic approach with all parties working together, and then everyone could end up winning, but most important of all the sport wins.