Whenever there is a selection process for anything there will always be someone upset at being left out.
The International Hockey Federation announced on the weekend the nine men’s and nine women’s teams to contest their new Pro League competition commencing in 2019. Needless to say there were many nations who were disappointed to miss out.
Eleven nations had teams selected for the two events. Australia, Argentina, Great Britain/England, Germany, India, the Netherlands and New Zealand all had both their men’s and women’s teams selected. In just the women’s event China and the USA had their teams included and in the men’s event, Belgium and Pakistan rounded out the nine teams.
There were plenty of nations who put their hands up to be a part of the new competition, but there were limited places. Spain could feel a little miffed in the men’s competition having been silver medallists at three Olympic Games. South Korea who have been consistently, until recent times, Asia’s most consistent performer did not submit to be a part of the league.
Yet when one looks at the criteria to be involved in the new Pro League there is one team that probably has more right than any to be disappointed, and that is Malaysia.
Entry into the new league which will be regarded as a league featuring the top teams in the world was evaluated around meeting the three main objectives of the new FiH event portfolio: a) to generate a massive change in TV and media coverage for hockey, b) create big, bold, packed and loud events, and c) make a step change to increase future revenues for the sport.
Malaysia through their television partner Astro has led the way in the televising of Hockey in Asia and has even introduced many new innovations globally. In 2015 at the Hockey World League semi finals they introduced “Umpire cam;” The umpires however found the equipment too bulky, but it gave a great insight into their view of the game. At the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2016 they had “Goalkeeper Cam” where a camera was placed on the helmet of the goalkeepers. This was optional to those playing and sadly only a few opted to assist. Then in 2017 at the same event they had cameras inserted into the crossbar of the goal.
When it comes to “big, bold, packed and loud events” possibly in Asia only India at the present time can match the crowds in Malaysia. The atmosphere is something special. Sadly with the national team not performing as well as expected in recent times the crowds have been affected.
The third point which is to increase revenues, with the best teams coming to Malaysia to play in a global league one would have expected some of the country’s multi-national companies to come on board and promote their brand globally.
What will sting the passionate Malaysian hockey fans the most is the fact that Pakistan has been included in the Pro League, and will be playing all of their home games in Scotland!
Obviously the Political climate in Pakistan has hindered the team for the past five years or more, and this was one of the super powers of world hockey in years gone by. The last World Cup and the last Olympics were the first two that they had failed to qualify for. Pakistan hockey needs a lift, it needs a break, as it tries to rebuild.
Yet to play the games in Scotland seems a bizarre decision and one wonders whether they will indeed pull in the crowds that the Pro League expects. Had they opted to play their home games in Malaysia, it may have been rubbing salt into Malaysia’s wounds, but it made more sense.
Many of Pakistan’s young players play in the Malaysian Hockey League, so the Malaysians will be familiar with the players. It would have meant that Pakistan was playing in Asia, a Confederation that it belongs to. It would also have meant that there would have been four Eastern, or Asian and Oceania teams competing, along with four European and one South American, so logistically easier to plan fixtures.
The teams that submitted to be a part of the league and missed out were Spain and Malaysia in the men’s tournament. In the women’s it was Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Japan and Spain who missed out.
Based on the FIH’s World rankings the men’s competition is made up of the current top eight ranked teams, and Pakistan ranked 13th. Only Spain of the teams above Pakistan applied to be a part of the Pro League. Malaysia are ranked 14th.
When you look at the women’s competition, once again we see the top eight ranked teams selected and then the 12th ranked team India. Korea, Spain and Japan occupy the places above India in the World Rankings. Only Spain and Japan submitted to be included.
With Japan hosting the Olympics in 2020 would it have not been the ideal way to generate interest in the Hockey event having Japan as part of the Pro League? With the sport under Olympic threat this could possibly have ensured greater interest in Tokyo 2020, but then again we will find out the future of the sport at the Olympic Games in coming weeks. Maybe as rumoured eleven-a-side Hockey will be witnessed for the last time in Tokyo.
Whenever a new competition is set up and teams are selected, rather than places awarded on performance, people will be disappointed to miss out;Although based on the rankings the argument could be in the main that it was based on performance. It is important however that the Hockey community get behind this new tournament and support it by going to games when they are being played. The success of the competition with nine teams will mean the sooner the competition can be expanded to include more nations. It is therefore just as important that those who missed out continue to work on their game so that when they do play these teams they can show that they deserve to be a part of the Pro League.
It has been labelled a Hockey Revolution, but it feels more like evolution.