Sport or Entertainment
“Panem et circenses” is the original Latin expression from back in the Roman era that will loosely translate into “Bread and Games”. It refers to politicians using diversion instead of actual accomplishments to keep the people happy. And it can ‘t be denied a lot of sports have evolved more towards fulfilling entertainment goals than actual sport goals. In our parts of the world mostly not because politics needed something to divert the people from actual problems not being solved, but more because of the almighty dollar or euro.
A slippery slope
Some sports have stayed true to their nature, some have moved completely to entertainment rather than sport. Some have found or are finding a balance between both components. I feel hockey is on a slippery slope at the moment. Looking to secure its place among Olympic sports and to grow our sport it seems to be willing to let go of the sporting tradition and give priority to commercial interests. Instead of growing and moving on from regions and systems where our sports has a strong support, the FIH seems to prioritise regions and development pushed by commercial partners. It is my explicit fear hockey will be replaced after the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 by this Hockey5’s concept the FIH is promoting (read pushing down our throats). Our sport has always been proud of being innovative and not stuck in our ways and I agree that is something to be proud of… But the change to Hockey5’s is more than switching from grass to artificial turf, more than changing 2x 35 minutes of play into 4 quarters of 15 minutes (which I still consider a theft of 10 minutes), more than abolishing the off side rule…
Anyway, until the FIH comes forward with the doom scenario I’m expecting, they came together a couple of weeks ago in Dubai to discuss the future of hockey. Yep, Dubai of all places… not exactly the epicentre of hockey as we know it. However Dubai does stand for the commercialisation of sports…
So we got us a new president for the FIH, Narinder Batra from India. We know him as the man behind the Hockey India League, the HIL. I’m a big fan of the HIL and what he accomplished there but the effect of the chosen path on the game as we know it (in Europe) will be big. He says his focus will be on the player of the game… however I think he means on the professional player of the game. He also said he will be less involved in the changes to come in formats and events. Instead he will focus on his strong points: increasing revenue and reach.
But even before the appointment of the new president the FIH choose a new direction towards a “global game that inspires a generation”. To succeed the FIH has to achieve these four goals:
- Develop innovative and exciting entertainment events
- Increase the degree of professionalism in the sport
- Build a recognised, powerful image for hockey
- Generate millions more followers around the world
In Dubai the FIH decided to start implementing the changes to achieve its first goal. So which events and changes do they have in store for us…
Let me start with some reassuring news. What we (in Europe) consider the 3 most important tournaments, the majors, will remain the same.
The Olympic Games, the World Cup – “Glory” – and the European Championship
These 3 major tournaments remain more or less the same. Every two years for the EC and every 4 years for both the Games and the WC. The only event fully organised by the FIH of these 3 is the World Cup and for the FIH the WC is all about “GLORY”. The tone for the quality of this event has been set by the most recent WC in The Hague in 2014, next up India who will most likely put up a memorable show also… provided they can get the crowd to the stadium for the games where the home country is not on display. Let’s see where they can take it…
The continental championships, such as the European Championship, will be held, depending upon the region, always in the same season so all calendars of global and national competitions know how to schedule around it.
The World League – “Fairytale”
The newest addition to our global events has only seen two full editions so far but will be changed to make room for something new. “FAIRYTALE” has been chosen to represent the World League because it will allow the smaller nations of our hockey family to dream of the big stage. Round 3 and 4 (the finals) have been scrapped. The event will still be organised every two years but will consist of two rounds, each split up in different events.
Round 1 will be organised regionally for those countries dreaming of growing to the top. The nations ranked 1 to 9 will be exempt from the first round.
Round 2 will be organised in 3 events of each 8 nations. The top 9 nations will be distributed evenly over these 3 events and the rest will come out of the round 1 events. Finishing among the top 2 of each of these round 2 events will guarantee that nation a spot for the Olympic qualifying event (see below). But there will not be a single winner of the World League event… so the event now officially is nothing more than a qualifying event instead of a title event.
A new home & away event for nations – “Hockey is coming home”
This is the new FIH event on a global scale that will rock the world of our European hockey as we know it… “Hockey is coming home” is the chosen theme for this nameless event. It will be named in 2017 and will start in 2019.
It will not be a regular tournament, but rather a series of home and away games for a limited amount of national teams, both men and women. The idea behind this is to avoid the empty stadiums we often see during regular tournaments when the home country is not playing. Playing in front of a home crowd will guarantee fuller stadiums and big & loud entertainment. And that is what it is all about: entertainment to grow our sport on a global scale!
Not everything is clear and fixed for this event today. The name will be announced next year. Participation will be limited to 7 or 8 or 9 nations. These nations will be the same for 4 years! Afterwards changes or expansion is possible. Which nations are among the chosen ones is still undecided. The global ranking will be one of the elements for participation, but… so will be financial stability to guarantee their commitment for at least 4 years to this expensive format. And last but not least a third criterium for participation will be the possibilities regarding TV & media coverage from each country.
Practically these games will be scheduled between the end of January and March below the equator and between April and mid June in the northern hemisphere… every year. A grand final event will determine the winner each year for the top 4 of the home & away games. This final event will be organised around the end of June each year on 1 single location.
The Olympic Qualifier
The IOC still demands nations will have at least two opportunities to qualify for their Olympic Games. The Games are – and stay – an event for 12 nations (men and women).
The host nation is the first to qualify. Secondly the 5 continental champions (the first opportunity for qualification) will qualify for the Games. The 6 remaining nations will come from the second opportunity to qualify, an Olympic qualifying tournament.
This Olympic Qualifier is a 12 nation tournament. The top 4 nations from the new “Home & Away” event qualify for the Olympic Qualifier. The top 2 nations of every World League round 2 event, so 6 nations will also be invited for this Qualifier. The remainder of invited nations (because most likely there will also be some overlap between the invited nations based upon these other events) will be selected based upon the global ranking.
So what will happen to our clubs, the EHL, the HIL,…
So there you go. The world of hockey continues to shake things up… The famous Champions Trophy is a thing of the past…almost. And especially the new “Home & Away” format will have a significant impact on our traditional club competitions in Europe. In case of 8 participating nations this will result in 14 games for our national teams between the end of January and mid June. In case a team makes it to the top 4, an additional Grand Final event in June will add yet another 2 games. Quite an burden on our club competitions being played between September and June with between 20 and 30 gamedays at ideally 1/week.
Add to this the 3 weekend events for the EHL, the Euro Hockey League for our top clubs, but also the shorter indoor hockey competitions during our European winter and let’s not forget the lucrative HIL in India which today is an important source of income for a lot of top players also involved in European club hockey and national teams.
It doesn’t take a math genius to calculate this will result into multiple calendar conflicts if we want to hang on to our traditional club competition. This means something has to change and change radically for our clubs!
Watch this longer video from the FIH congress in Dubai explaining about the new events if you want to know more about it.
One final remark
A couple of days ago I watched the documentary “Death of a gentleman” (2015) about the changes to the sport of cricket when India, or rather a commercial partner originating from India, seized power in the world’s second biggest sport. It happened in Dubai and that’s not the only similarity I see I’m afraid. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that…