FIH is making a mess of it

FIH mess
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Rumour has it the FIH will organise football (!) ⚽️ tournaments in certain parts of the world and have the winners of these football matches qualify for the Olympic hockey ? tournament. Because you know… certain parts of the world don’t have a strong hockey tradition just yet. And it would be soooo unfair to disallow these countries  from participating in our hockey tournament for Tokyo 2020 or Paris 2024. The only thing left to decide is if the Olympic Games in Paris 2024 will be played with a football or a hockeyball and if teams should be mixed . They say the FIH will vote this during their next global congress in Qatar or something. By the way, in case you didn’t knew already, when the decision for mixed teams is confirmed the women in those teams will play with sticks but the men with their feet, without sticks. Hockey Australia, I’m told, will test and introduce these rules as of the 2020 AHL…

FIH messThe FIH is making a mess of it…

By now most of you will think I’ve lost it or am exaggerating. Probably you’re right… but still… Let me walk you through what happened. Last night I came across this tweet from The Hook, a well respected Irish hockey blog :

The very nice guy behind The Hook is somewhat more moderate and diplomatic compared to me in his communication about… well, the mess created by the FIH. But let me explain what is happening here…

The Hook retweeted a video from the FIH about the highlights of the Hockey Series Open tournament being played in Vanuatu. I had to look it up myself but Vanuatu is a couple of small islands in Oceania, somewhere between Australia and Fiji. The Hockey Series Open is the new name for what used to be the Hockey World League. So the event being played in Vanuatu is not just a friendly recreational event. It is the real thing… Winning means qualification for the Hockey Series Finals and if you do well there, you get to play the Olympic Qualifier for Tokyo 2020. Meaning the Hockey Series Open is the first step for possible qualification in the Olympics or the World Cup. Serious stuff…

However, as clearly shown in the video tweeted by the FIH, they were not playing any hockey in Vanuatu these past days. They were playing Hockey5s which is a different sport. I know I’ve spoken out against Hockey5s in the past. But wether you’re a fan of Hockey5s or not is irrelevant in this case. Would FIFA organise futsal events as qualification for their World Cup? Would you qualify to play Wimbledon after winning a table tennis tournament? This is ridiculous! How do we expect the world, the IOC, to take our sport serious if even the FIH, our own governing body, doesn’t? As far as we know it, the Tokyo 2020 games will still be an 11-a-side tournament. If not some coaches and teams will be in for quite a surprise 😉
So how is it possible the FIH is allowing a 5-a-side event to be qualifying for an 11-a-side Olympic tournament? Yes of course, the countries participating in this Hockey Series in Vanuatu will know in the end they do not stand a chance to make it to the real Olympics in 2020. So where is the harm of having these countries play Hockey5s instead of real hockey you might ask. Well, if we want our sport to remain Olympic and be taken serious by sports fans as well as sponsors from all over the world we have to start by taking ourselves serious as well.

Hockey5s at the YOG in Buenos Aires

Later this year Argentina will host the Youth Olympic Games, another spin off by the IOC marketing team to get a better ROI (= return on investment) for their Olympic sponsors. The 3rd edition of this event is the 2nd time hockey will be represented by Hockey5s instead of our traditional and Olympic 11-a-side game. FIH claims the previous edition in China was a big success for Hockey5s. One can’t help but wonder based upon which criteria, but OK.

Even if we agree a 2nd and short format of the game could be a good idea to complement the real game of hockey. To help promote our sport in for example the urban scene of inner cities or those remote parts of the world where hockey is not known yet. It still amazes me the FIH felt they had to invent a completely new sport for this. With indoor hockey we already have a format that fits all the requirements sports marketeers made up to justify the need for these so called short formats of the game. Rebrand indoor hockey as Hockey6s, keep all existing rules but allow it to be played outside as well on basketball fields, handball or multisport courts which are easier to come by, compared to full blown water-based artificial grass hockey pitches. And there you go… the ideal short format of the game. But one that already has a tradition, a legacy. Not to mention an existing player base as well as fans and followers from all over the world. The most recent world cup for indoor hockey saw Austria (not Australia but Österreich) take the title and for example Iran taking bronze. Countries that are not exactly known powerhouses of our traditional game of hockey today. And isn’t that what FIH hopes to accomplish with this short format of the game?

But it looks like even the FIH themselves do not know what they want… Jon Wyatt, FIH sports director, claims on the YOG website : “Hockey 5s has already proved very popular, and the FIH envisages that this exciting format will complement the 11-a-side game.”
To complement the 11-a-side game he said… and that makes sense for a short format of our sport. Even if I think it should be Hockey6s instead of Hockey5s.
But then your read a quote by his new boss at the FIH. Thierry Weil, CEO, stated at his own website : “The Youth Olympic Games are a fantastic opportunity for the world to see the future of our sport…” So he claims Hockey5s is the future of our sport! That my friends is not just one, but many bridges too far for me….

So maybe the FIH should first make up their minds. Is Hockey5s the future of our sport? Or is the short format of the game only being promoted to complement our traditional game of hockey. That is a major decision to make if not already made… and one of the reasons why I recently published an opinion piece entitled “The end of hockey“.

Anyway… this weekend the Asian Games are starting. Yet another major event in the world of hockey. The winner earns a seat at the table for Tokyo 2020. So the question remains… will they play 5-a-side or 11-a-side? I think it still might be 11-a-side tournament, but you never know. We’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile… enjoy hockey! Wether you play it in a club on artificial grass or with some friends on the street. Wether you play some 1-on-1’s, 5 versus 5 or the regular 11 v 11. Always enjoy hockey 😉

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