Jon Wyatt about qualifying pathways & a new global ranking

Jon Wyatt about qualifying pathways & a new global ranking
Studio Hockey

 
 
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So it’s the middle of November. In Lausanne, Switzerland where the FIH is based first snow has arrived. But that did not stop FIH from launching a couple of press releases in recent days. Announcing some novelties following the meeting of their executive board last week.

In today’s podcast & column here we will only be addressing two of these. So the first ever world cup to be held in two different countries will not be on today’s agenda. Nor the controversial choice for Bhubaneswar for the men’s world cup, meaning 3 out the most recent 4 world cups would be hosted by India.
The choice to start a world cup for Hockey5s by 2023, a possibly fatal choice for our 11v11 game of hockey, will also have to wait for another time. As will the launch of the FIH Intercontinental Cup, basically the 2nd division for the FIH Pro League. We will discuss these choices in separate podcasts & columns in the near future…

However today we will limit ourselves to less controversial though important changes: first we will discuss the new system for our global ranking to be launched in January of 2020. Secondly we will talk about the road to Bhubaneswar and future world cups. Wether these will all be hosted in India is for some other time.

FIH global ranking Jon WyattWho better to talk us through the new global ranking and the new pathway to qualify for a world cup then Jon Wyatt, sports & development director for the FIH… We spoke with him before when the idea of a new global ranking was first announced in March (listen here), but now we’re close to the launch.

Why we need a new global ranking

As Wyatt explains the current global ranking is based upon tournaments, where the new ranking will be match-based. Since most nations only got to participate in FIH tournaments when qualified, some only got to play for points once or twice every 4 years. Because only some 20% of all official matches played in the international scene were being played in ranking tournaments. So 80% of the games being played did not have any contribution to the world ranking.

That is a problem. Because most nations would have to show to their government or the sports funding bodies in their country some kind of progress to be considered for support. If you hardly ever get to play for world ranking points that becomes a difficult task. So this was one of the more important reasons to rethink the global ranking. But it’s not the only reason.

In the previous ranking most everybody will agree there was too much subjectivity, especially in the relative importance given to different continental championships. This led to a flawed ranking. A match-based system will to a certain extent eliminate this subjectivity. Because it will now focus on the relative strength of the two teams playing a game instead of trying to figure out and compare the strength of entire continents.

Besides this, the new ranking will be more simple and dynamic… making it easier to create some extra buzz about individual international games of any level. Because the immediate impact of a win or loss will be easy for all to see.

How & when

The new ranking system will take effect from 2020-01-01 onwards. However FIH has chosen to make the change more gradually. So as not to throw everybody off balance from the get go… Even though the position of the FIH is high performance directors of the nations should not focus on this global ranking, but rather on performing well at key moments such as the Olympics and the World Cup. It is clear an immediate change of the ranking, recalculating the results of the last 4 years for example, would not be fair on those who made their choices in those days based upon the old system. That is why the points for each country in the global ranking on January 1st will be exactly the same as today. But for every game played from that day on the new calculation per match will take effect. Hence for the new system to take full effect it might take some time. It will take 4 years for the points from the old system to be washed out. I would have loved to see an immediate upset of the world order, but have to admit this slower implementation is the fair way of doing it.

So let’s dive in… what will it look like?

When the new ranking is launched the FIH will have a full and detailed explanation of the algorithms used plus a FAQ (frequently asked questions) based upon all remarks the FIH got from international coaches and performance directors when asked for their input. But let’s take a look at what it will become…

First principle is the standard amount of points for a win is 10, which means the loser of that game will also lose 10 points. Whatever the calculations that will follow, the amount of points won by the winner will always be exactly the same amount of points lost by the loser of that match.

Two factors will have an effect on the standard amount of 10 points won or lost:

  1. the difference in ranking points before the match is played
  2. the importance of the match

The difference of ranking points between both teams in a match is used to calculate the first multiplier. Based upon this the standard amount of 10 points could max be doubled (factor 2) or minimum reduced to zero (factor 0). Meaning the amount of points won or lost could maximum be 20 and minimum 0 depending upon the difference in ranking points. Because if team A (ranked for example in the top 5) plays team B (ranked for example between 8 and 12), it would be a bigger accomplishment for team B to win the match. That’s why based upon the difference in ranking points team B for example would win 15 points instead of 10 (and team A would lose 15 points) if team B beats team A. However if team A would win it would be less of a surprise. That’s why team A in case of a win would for example only win 5 points instead of 10, meaning team B would only lose 5 as well.

The above scenario would be true in case of an ordinary official (practice) match. But a second multiplier would be applied based upon the importance of a match. So the minimum multiplier would be 1 for regular official matches. But for matches with more importance the amount of points at stake could rise drastically:

  • x2 for official invitational tournaments with 4 nations or more
  • x3 for official qualifiers to continental championships
  • x5 for the FIH Pro League as well as the new FIH Intercontinental Cup (or the 2nd division to the Pro League)
  • x6 for the continental championships as well as the FIH Qualifiers (for both World Cup or Olympics)
  • x10 for both the World Cup and the Olympic Games

So a win at the Games or WC against much higher ranked nation could possibly result in 200 points.
The main reason for adding more weight to games in invitational tournaments (4 or more countries involved) compared to regular one-on-one test series is because FIH wants to promote/encourage tournaments. And as expected the Games and World Cup would be the events where the most points can be won (or lost).

What about our short format of the game?

For those in love with the short format of our game, indoor hockey, the ranking will remain as is and only be changed after the next World Cup so as not to upset a qualification route to the World Cup half way. Indoor hockey however will follow in the footsteps of outdoor hockey as soon as possible is expected. By the way… isn’t it time to stop calling our short format of the game indoor hockey? Yes there are countries where it is played outdoors as well 😉
Let’s call it Hockey6 or SuperSixes or whatever cool name FIH marketing could come up with and make sure the rules are flexible enough to have this game played indoor or outdoor and on any smooth surface. Because this is the one and only short format of hockey that is supported, has a legacy and a loyal fanbase around the world… if you catch my drift 😉

New qualifying pathways to the World Cup and Olympics

Back to outdoor hockey… FIH also announced a new pathway to qualify for the next World Cup in Bhubaneswar. No, obviously FIH never said anything about Bhubaneswar being the chosen venue once again. But since money was the deciding factor to determine the hosts for the World Cups we all know it will be Odisha and Bhubaneswar once again.

IOC still wants two different pathways within reach of every (!) country to qualify for the Games. Hosting the Games (or World Cup since it follows the same path) is still the first way to qualify. So , the host country takes the first available spot. Remember: 12 participating countries for the Olympic Games and 16 for the World Cup.
Next up, the winners of the continental championship qualify immediately as well. That would be the first route to qualification. The second route to qualification comes through FIH Qualifiers who will determine which countries will take the remaining spots for the main event. This set up will remain the same…. with some small changes for the FIH Qualifiers.

That is where it gets a little bit more complicated… For Tokyo 2020 the FIH Qualifiers were played in a best of two format at home for the highest ranked nation. Where in a semi guided draw, the highest ranked nations – not yet qualified – would be matched up with the lowest ranked nations. And sub-top nations would be drawn in a similar way to lower ranked nations. Winner takes all where the winner of these two games at home for the highest ranked nation would be determined by the aggregated score of both games.

So what will change for the FIH World Cup in 2023?

First change is with regards to the timing of these Qualifiers. The time between deciding who was playing the Qualifiers and the actual games was too short for Tokyo. That means for the hosts of these games there was not enough time to really do some powerful marketing for these incredibly important games according to FIH. So, for the next World Cup the FIH Qualifiers will all be played in March 2022!

Yep, that’s right… in March! Once again the FIH completely ignores the important domestic leagues. In our traditional European domestic leagues competition restarts in March every year, after a short winter break… because of climate, international hockey and indoor hockey. March through May/June are the key months of these domestic leagues, as well as the EHL. One can only say… incredible! And I might even add…. incompetent!

The second change is of less importance, though I do not agree again. The FIH qualifiers will become home & away games, instead of two home games for the higher ranked nation. FIH thinks this will make it fairer, my thoughts are the higher ranked nation has earned the advantage of playing at home twice. It’s the challengers who need to make the extra effort to change the order. Added bonus, according to FIH, would be a lower ranked nation that will have the opportunity to host a home game for their fans against one of the top nations. This, I agree, is a real bonus. The first game would be played at home for the lower ranked nation. The second and deciding game would be played at home for the higher ranked nation.
Not only is this bad for the ecological footprint of our sport, but it will add costs for both nations who now both have to invest in travel & accommodation for the away game as well as the significant costs of hosting a top event at home. Both will have the revenues of hosting a top event at home as well, but for a lot of countries these might not cover the cost I fear…

A third change will make things possible even more complicated. Maybe more balanced as well, so it could be worth the headache of explaining it though. The third change is in the way countries will be selected to play these FIH Qualifiers. Because here the FIH will determine the number of countries per continent allowed to play the Qualifiers based upon the global ranking. meaning it could very well be a higher ranked nation would not be allowed to play the FIH qualifiers if his continental quota has been filled and instead their spot would go to a lower ranked nation from another continent. However the FIH feels this will add excitement to the continental championships because, entering these, each nation will know what is expected of them to either qualify directly (win) or get picked up for the FIH qualifiers… Ah well, we might have to wait for the written rules concerning this to actually determine what is what.

Summary

So to sum up… we got some good news with a new and improved global ranking as of next year. And we got some bad news with poorly planned and more expensive FIH Qualifiers. But what stings the most is the complete disregard of the FIH for the extremely important domestic club competition. I’m repeating myself, but it’s worth repeating until heard… These domestic club leagues are the foundation of our game. If we do not respect the domestic leagues our game of hockey will rush towards the end of hockey as we know it…