Belgium changes its competition to fit in the HPL

HPLIt’s been a couple of months now since the new Hockey Pro League or HPL has been announced to start the revolution of hockey around the world. Not without certain upsets following it, as is to be expected from any change that wants to start a revolution.
Today still, the new event has no sponsors announced. We witnessed the surprise withdrawal of India from the HPL. Several leading administrators of the game have since then left the FIH. The president of the FIH has been invisible to the world of hockey since the HPL has been announced and “his” India withdrew. He has taken on a different role as president of the Indian Olympic association and seems to be focussing on his presence in India once more.

But it was especially those involved in European hockey who were worried and threatened in their ways and tradition. We enjoy a rich club culture and claim this to be the foundation of our sport in these parts of the world. So Europeans, because of the HPL and this Hockey Revolution by the FIH, had to rethink our traditional domestic leagues as well as for example the EHL.

A more or less similar set up exists among most European countries with the Dutch “hoofdklasse” as the most famous and strongest domestic league of them all. Where most countries provide some kind of income for their national team players for them to be able to live as professional or semi-pro players, the Dutch top players have to rely fully on their clubs for some kind of income. But whatever the set up and specifics, club hockey is very important for all European players. Not just for the amateur and recreational hockey player, but also for the top pro and semi-pro players.

In recent days it were the Belgians who first came forward (although still to be confirmed officially) with their plans to adapt to the new demands by international hockey. The Belgian Honour Division is a typical European club league. Twelve club teams play home and away games between early September and the end of April, meaning 22 games each played traditionally on Sunday afternoon. Afterwards the top 4 participate in a play off with semi-finals and finals to determine the national champion. During the week most teams train between more or less 3 days a week with their club. Top players also add several individual workout sessions and the training time every week with their national team. This means a pretty busy calendar in between study and/or part time work for a lot of them… The HPL will add at least 16 more games to this calendar in between January and June with some extensive global travelling involved also.
In their new set up to start next season, so by September 2018, the Belgian competition will still have its twelve clubs. But they will be divided in two pools of 6, based upon their results over the last 5 years in order to get evenly balanced pools in terms of strength…. more or less. Each club plays home and away games within their pool, meaning 10 games. They will also play a single game against each club from the other pool, meaning 3 home and 3 away games for a total of 16 games. The top 8 ranked teams will then play quarter finals, semi finals and finals in a home & away game to decide who will become national champion. Meaning the top teams, with the top players will have played 22 games instead of some 25 in a season. But it will increase the flexibility of the regular competition calendar before the play off in order to schedule the HPL games in between.

Another challenge for the European club teams will be how they will manage the international players from other countries in their clubs. It will become increasingly difficult for international players, especially from outside of Europe, to be a part of the Hoofdklasse or other European domestic club leagues which will mean the level can be expected to go down somewhat. That would be a shame but we, the fans, would get 8 international games played at home from our national team each season in return.

The EHL or Euro Hockey League has had a major impact on international hockey in its 11 years of existence now and seems to be convinced the will continue to do so in the future as well. Their KO16 is scheduled at Easter in Rotterdam and we can expect more news about their plans for the future by then.

Another impactful hockey event that has been affected by all of this would be the HIL or Hockey India League. They cancelled their 2018 edition but still seem to be convinced to make a comeback in 2019, moving from the beginning of the year towards the end of the year to avoid a clash with the HPL. Because even if India has withdrawn from the HPL, for obscure reasons, they will still need international players from HPL playing countries in their HIL. Or will we be seeing players choosing the HIL over playing for their country in the HPL?