What is it they say about the best laid plans of mice and men?
No matter how carefully you plan an event, and how many people check and double check that everything is in place and that there will be no issues down the track, infrequently you get blindsided.
It would appear that the International Hockey Federation (FIH) have suffered just that fate.
The Women’s Hockey World League Finals event has just come to a conclusion in New Zealand and the Men’s event is about to commence in India this week.
This was an event created to give nations a second chance of qualification for the World Cup and the Olympic Games as per IOC regulations. The premier event being the Confederation Championships which sees the Champions all automatically qualify for each event.
The problem with this event has always been that the Semi-Finals carry far more importance than the finals, as where teams finish in the semi final tournament has an impact on whether they qualify for the two key events. (Hockey World League Conundrum) Of course with the birth of the Pro-League for the nine chosen nations starting in 2019 the Hockey World League will be revamped.
In the very first edition of the Hockey World League in 2013 a situation arose that garnered little attention. It is only now that it has happened for a second game that some are feeling a little aggrieved.
Eight teams qualify for the Hockey World League finals. The host nation receives an automatic qualification berth. That proves not to be an issue when the host nation makes the semi-finals of the Hockey World League semi-final tournament, as it means all eight semi-finalists qualify for the finals. If the host fails to qualify then the lowest ranked team to finish in the semi-finals is eliminated to accommodate the host nation.
This may make perfect sense, and of course it is vital that the Host nation plays in such a tournament as they are the ones who will draw the crowds.
In all three incarnations of the Women’s tournament the host nation has qualified for the semi-finals so all has been well. However, in the Men’s tournament twice now the host nation has failed to make the semi-finals and as a result has bumped a side that finished higher than them out of the finals.
In 2013, India, as Host Nation took the place of South Korea and this year they will participate at the expense of Malaysia. In 2013 South Korea was the highest ranked Asian nation placed 7th while India was 11th. Two years later they failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 1988.
Both of these Asian nations would benefit immensely by playing in such a tournament, not just in terms of experience, but also because World Rankings points are available at the Hockey World League finals.
Not surprisingly fans of Malaysian Hockey are very upset that having beaten India in the Quarter-Finals of the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in London, before losing to Argentina in the semi-finals, and England in the Bronze medal match. India went on to lose to Canada in the play-off for fifth and sixth place.
With India being the host when the World Rankings came out after the Hockey World League semi-finals they were ranked in the top eight and were awarded points accordingly. Yet in truth they should have been ranked 11th, as they had a ranking higher than the team that finished sixth in South Africa, which was New Zealand. As a result of hosting the event and being ranked in the top eight Ireland, Canada, Malaysia were all shunted down a place.
However, the big issue that has many of those nations not participating in the Hockey World League finals talking is that World Ranking points are up for grabs at the tournament. Their argument is that this is hardly fair when the host nation failed to qualify on merit, and deprived another nation of gaining those points. The team that qualified has no chance to gain points and climb the world Rankings.
Malaysia currently sit just 40 points behind Canada and 68 points behind Ireland in 12th position. A good performance at the Hockey World League finals could have seen them leap two places into the top ten.
This may not seem a big deal to many, but is it is a huge deal in many countries as Government funding is based on performances at various tournaments, as well as qualifying for such finals, and the Olympic Games and World Cup. To be deprived of that opportunity simply so the host nation can play has huge ramifications and can also impact on sponsorship opportunities.
As one Gentleman who wished to remain anonymous stated “By hosting an event such as the Hockey World League final the FIH are basically allowing nations to buy world rankings points.”
There are some who feel to balance the ledger the points won by the host nation should be given to the nation that was deprived of taking part. However that suggestion is never likely to fly. The other suggestion is not to award any world ranking points for the Finals. Again this is unlikely to be an accepted proposition. Surely making it a nine team tournament would have been an easier solution, with the team that finishes last at the end of the Round Robin games being eliminated?
One does wonder where the FIH would stand if a legal challenge was mounted in relation to the World Rankings points being awarded, and the impact it has on other nations and their ability to generate revenue. Although, only one team from outside the current Top 8 has qualified for the finals in 2017 if we do not count Malaysia, and that is Spain. New Zealand, ranked eighth, missing out.
Should Malaysia have been allowed to participate?
Of course when the tournament was being thought through no doubt the powers that be assumed that the hosting rights would be moved around every two years, and they would also have expected the host to qualify. Unfortunately they have been blindsided by the fact that for a second time that has not been the case. In 2013 it was dismissed as a ‘teething problem’ with the event. It appears it is something bigger four years on.