Sentiment v Tradition?

Hockey fans around the world are shaking their heads once again.

At the end of December we revealed the resignation of the CEO of the International Hockey Federation as well as the resignations of other key personnel; Although there has still to be an official press release from the organisation to allay any fears of a sport in free fall.

The only people that seem to have received a statement on the CEO’s resignation is the website Inside the Games who revealed on the 22nd of December “Jason McCracken has resigned as chief executive of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) for personal reasons, the sport’s worldwide governing body has confirmed.” They went on to say “The shock resignation was accepted by the FIH Executive Board, the organisation said in a statement sent to insidethegames.”

However the day before this story appeared the Indian press were stating that Mr McCracken had resigned because he had been unable to find a sponsor for the FIH’s ambitious new Global competition, The Pro League. Which appears to be the accepted reason, although since when has a CEO been responsible for bringing in sponsorship? So which version is right?

There have been a number of other rumours circulating and it is hard to know what to believe.

Certainly it cannot have helped in the lead up to his resignation that there were complaints from National Coaches about the quarter finals format of the Hockey World League Finals, and the fact that so many players were taken ill at the tournament held in Bhubaneswar, India. Things were so bad that Germany could only field eleven players in their bronze medal match with India. This led to calls for the World Cup to be shifted away from India. So there was plenty going on leading up to the CEO’s resignation.

The Board appear to have made a decision to keep Mr McCraken on until June 2018. Which is a decision that has surprised many. With the Pro-league due to start in January 2019, one would expect they would want to find a new CEO quickly and have them in place driving the sport towards that milestone, as well as to the World Cup and final Champions Trophy Tournaments.

It is believed that a head-hunter has been employed to try and find the perfect individual for the role. For the sport’s sake let us hope that they find someone quickly.

The reason fans are shaking their heads now is in relation to the announcement that the FIH granted Pakistan a berth at the final Champion’s Trophy on the basis of the argument “that they were not able to qualify for all the major events in 2018, which will halt the growth of the game in the country.” This was according to newspaper reports from Pakistan where it was also stated that Pakistan would be the seventh team in the tournament being played in Breda in June.

PHF secretary Shahbaz Senior told The Express Tribune. “Pakistan needs to participate in international events to grow and this is one of those events where the top six teams of the world are available to play against. Normally it is a six team event, but Pakistan has been included as the seventh team courtesy a special request and will play against every team in the event.”

There are many in Hockey who are sad to see the Champions Trophy come to an end. It was after all a competition that used to pit the best in the world against each other, as every team competing played each other.

Those competing for the Champions Trophy, were always the host nation, the Olympic Champions, the World Champions the defending Champions Trophy winners and in recent times the Hockey World League Champions. The remaining places saw the top ranked teams from the World Cup or the Olympic Games invited to participate. A total of six teams would participate.

The tournament carries with it World Rankings points, which understandably irks some of the nations outside these rankings as it means that they have no opportunity to gain points while the top six teams do, and can cement their places at the top. What is it they say, success breeds success.

Leading into the Men’s Champions Trophy in 2018 the Netherlands as hosts have qualified, as have Argentina as Olympic Champions. Australia happens to be the World Champion, World League Champion and defending Champions Trophy winner, which means that there are three places open to invitation from the Executive Board. So who should receive an invitation?

The logical solution would have been to invite all of the Champions from the FIH confederations. However Australia are the Champions of Oceania, the Netherlands are the European Champions and Argentina are the Champions of Pan America. It would mean though that India and South Africa as the Champions of Asia and Africa would receive invitations. The big plus with this option is that there would be interest in the tournament from around the globe. However there would still be the question as to which nation would be the sixth to compete. The other problem with this idea is that these are not world competitions, whereas all of the others that guarantee qualification are.

So the only other option open to the powers that be is that they simply go to their own World Rankings. Australia are ranked number one, Argentina are second and the Netherlands are ranked four. So the simple solution would be to pick the next three highest ranked sides, which would be Belgium (3) Germany (5) and India (6).

However when making such a decision does money come into the equation? Is it about matching up teams that will create fixtures that have a huge appeal to fans, and will generate interest and television viewers? One can’t help feeling that there should have been a very clear criteria on which teams were invited, to avoid any debate.

The report in the Express Tribune stated that “Pakistan’s national hockey team has been granted entry into the Champions Trophy by International Hockey Federation (FIH) president Narinder Batra after the request made by Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) president Brig Khalid Sajjad Khokhar.” Yet the FIH clearly state that the places will be taken up by those teams invited by the Executive Board. So was it a request or an invitation? Or a request that led to an invitation?

Either way Pakistan’s invitation has understandably upset many, despite all hockey lovers wanting to see the nation back playing its best hockey. A number of national associations are said to be very upset by this decision and feel it has undermined the tournament. After all Pakistan are currently ranked 13th in the World.

With World Rankings points up for grabs it means that realistically Pakistan could jump ahead of the teams immediately above them just by being at the Champions Trophy, and without winning a game. This could affect funding those nations receive from their Governments as well as sponsorship deals based on World Rankings.

Traditionalists and sentimentalists will both understand why Pakistan have been invited. For many years Pakistan, and their neighbours India, were the benchmark to which all other nations aspired to. Both nations have fallen from the mountain-top. India who failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, the first time they had ever failed to compete at the Olympics, have slowly but surely been clawing their way back to the top, thanks to the Hockey India League and some good performances at major competitions; their cause has been helped by the fact that they have been able to host major tournaments thanks to a buoyant Indian economy.

Pakistan failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics, their first time failing to appear at both events. They now have to try and emulate India’s re-emergence.

The World XI series that is about to start is a step in the right direction, as this will be the first overseas side to play in Pakistan since they hosted the 2004 Champions Trophy. Fans have waited 14 years to see their national team play at home. A fact that must be hugely disappointing for a nation that has won three Olympic gold medals, the World Cup a record four times, the Asia Cup three times, the Asian Games gold a record eight times, the Asian Champions Trophy gold twice, and the FIH Champions Trophy gold three times.

It is understood that assisting in their re-emergence is not the sole reason Pakistan have been given this opportunity. It was after all Pakistan’s Air Marshal Nur Khan and the Pakistan Hockey Federation that Founded the Champions Trophy in 1978, when it was originally contested annually. As this is the last Champions Trophy there will be some symmetry to the tournament having Pakistan participate. Pakistan were the victors in Lahore in 1978 defeating Australia 2-1.

Of course if the FIH was solely looking to give Pakistan a helping hand then it is understandable that nations are questioning their motives. They have every right to ask why they too are not given such opportunities to better their rankings and performances.

What seems strange is that the story published in Pakistan said that they are to be “the seventh team at the tournament,” when we have been advised that there will only be six teams competing. The teams that will compete are as follows: Argentina, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, India and Pakistan.Germany the only team in the top six to miss out.

Now that Pakistan are to participate ahead of nations ranked higher than them in the FIH World Rankings, is it fair and reasonable to assume that no world ranking points should be up for grabs at the Champions Trophy? Although, if as reported Pakistan are to be the seventh team in the tournament, then possibly they could be excluded from picking up world ranking points. Although this could open another can of worms if they had a good tournament.

Set structures on qualification for events and clear communications help avoid situations such as the one that has currently arisen and must be in place moving forward.

Making the tough decisions that will ultimately benefit the sport as a whole in the long run come down to leadership. With the CEO having tendered his resignation a month ago along with other key personnel, it would appear that leadership is an issue at this point in time. So let us hope that a new CEO is found soon.

Sentiment v Tradition?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *