FIH plans hockey rejig with new global league from 2019

Lausanne, April 18 (IANS) The International Hockey Federation (FIH) on Monday announced that a new annual global home-and-away league will be launched in 2019 which will replace Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Finals and Finals and the Champions Trophy.

“Designed to provide a regular calendar of must-see events played in packed stadia across the world throughout the year, a new annual global home and away league involving the world’s leading hockey nations will complement the Hockey World Cup and Olympic Games tournaments,” FIH said in a statement.

“This system will see international teams play against opponents once at home and once away each year in this league. Following several months of competition, the top ranked teams will then qualify for a stand-alone grand finale tournament which will determine the winners of the competition,” it added.

“This will form part of a three tier system, identical for both the men’s and women’s game.”

The proposals were approved by the FIH Executive Board in Lausanne earlier this month. The decision was made after more than 18 months of consultation, research and development between a number of stakeholders, overseen by a specially formed working group for this project.

Teams participating in this new home and away league will be chosen based on a clearly defined set of qualification criteria designed to maintain the quality of the league and high standard events.

“These have been developed around the three main objectives of the new event portfolio — to generate a massive change in TV and media coverage for hockey; create big, bold, packed and loud events and make a step change to increase future revenues,” FIH said.

For those nations not in the home and away league, the next tier of competition will remain similar to the current HWL Round 1 and 2 events, played over two year cycles. This format will still give teams the chance to go all the way to the World Cup or Olympics.

Even the smallest hockey-playing nations have the opportunity to write their own chapter in hockey’s history books as they progress throughout the rounds of competition into these flagship events.

FIH also clarified that Champions Trophy — held once in two years since 1978 — will be scrapped and the 2018 edition in Amsterdam will be the final tournament.

While World Cup qualification will remain similar to the current system, Olympic qualification will change, pending approval of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games qualification criteria.

“This is a historic decision for the sport of hockey — a game changer! More than a year’s worth of work and over 700 people have helped develop this new portfolio of events. Moving from a tournament based format to a home and away league will considerably increase the value of our sport,” FIH CEO Kelly Fairweather said.

“Fans will be exposed to more international hockey throughout the year, with many more home matches for them to enjoy. This, along with tweaks to the tiers below, will have a significant impact on the sport across all levels, safeguarding its future for many years to come.”

FIH president Leandro Negre added: “When we launched our strategy 18 months ago we knew that drastic measures were required to revolutionise the sport. This is an exciting opportunity for hockey. A lot of hard work has already been undertaken, but this is only the start.

“We need the hockey family to embrace this change now to ensure we reach our 10-year aim of making hockey a global game that inspires the next generation. This will certainly be a monumental step for the sport as we take it to the next level.”

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