There was an irony in Ipoh, Malaysia this week as the International Hockey Federation conferred a posthumous award on the late Sultan Azlan Shah. The FIH awarding him the “Members of Honour” award to recognise his years of dedicated service to the game of hockey.
The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup celebrating its 25th Anniversary is the number one invitational Hockey event and the Sultan insisted that entry to all games must be free, so that all the people of Malaysia can watch their national team and the best teams in the world play, not just those who could afford it. His award is thoroughly deserved.
Sadly at the same time that the FIH were recognising a visionary with a passion for the game they also announced that the vision of Pakistan’s Air Marshal Nur Khan, and the Pakistan Hockey Federation,the Champions Trophy, which has been contested since 1978 will no longer be a part of the International Hockey Calendar after the 2018 edition.
There are some who feel that this announcement is a knee-jerk reaction to the problems that this year’s event faced. The 2016 Champions Trophy was scheduled for June and to be held in Argentina. Two of the European nations that had qualified for the event apparently advised the FIH that they would not be attending, or would be sending a youth team instead. These nations not wanting to make two trips to South America in close succession – The Olympics are in Rio in August – and also wanting to save their Olympic athletes for the main focus of chasing Olympic Gold.
There are several issues here. The first is was it wise to schedule such a tournament in South America so close to the Olympic Games? Should the FIH have stood up to these nations and threatened to deduct world ranking points or ban them for failing to meet the obligation of having to attend a tournament that all were aware of well in advance?
The truth is if the Champions Trophy is to be played in an Olympic year the timing of that event needs to be given a great deal of thought so that it does not affect teams’ preparations for the Olympic Games, Hockey’s longest running international tournament. It will now be held in London.
Many close to the game feel that the writing was on the wall when the Hockey World League was introduced and the Champions Trophy became a bi-ennial event.
Yet after just two editions of the Hockey World League competition this too is to be re-formatted. The Hockey World League’s semi-finals and Finals will no longer feature in the FIH calendar they will be replaced by the rumoured to be named “Global Hockey League.”
This will have huge ramifications around the Hockey World as for example funding for Australia’s Hockey program was based on the team’s performance at the Hockey World League semi finals. Now it appears that this will have to be re-visited and could come down to one game rather than a whole tournament.
Hockey World League one and two, tournaments that provide international exposure to the lowly-ranked nations will continue.
The “Global Hockey League” which will start in 2019 will consist of seven teams and will take up to four months of the sport’s international calendar. Those participating in the “Global Hockey League” are assured of featuring in the elite home-and-away competition for four years. The GHL will expand to be a nine-team competition from 2021, after which relegation and promotion would be introduced in 2023.
This format may well put an added financial burden on some national bodies, as rather than being located in one location for a fortnight they will now be required to move from country to country over a possible three week period. Hopefully a sponsor has been found to absorb some of these costs. No doubt more details will be revealed in due course.
Whereas in the past the Hockey World League has determined who qualifies for the Olympic Games or World Cup there will now be stand-alone qualifiers for the Olympic Games and the World Cup.
There is no doubt that the Hockey World League format needed to be revised, but it is sad that on a weekend that the Hockey World celebrated 25 years of Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey with the current World number one, Australia meeting the former world power in Hockey, India, in the final, the game learned that another of Hockey’s traditional events will be no more in three years time.
We live in a changing world and sporting codes have to evolve in order to stay competitive and appealing.IT is never easy to make a decision to stop a competition that has a history to it, but no doubt the powers that be have thought long and hard before reaching such a decision, and the outcome is aimed to carry the game forward.