The #RoadtoRio seems to be the hashtag of this summer in the world of hockey. Seven nations have qualified, five to go!
The Road to Rio has, above all, lots and lots of tournaments along the way… The IOC prefers for international federations to offer at least two qualification options for taking part in the Games. So also for hockeycountries with the ambition to be among the top twelve nations at the Olympics there had to be at least two separate ways to make it to Rio.
Out of twelve (12) participating nations the first “ticket” to join is for the host nation. In this case Brazil… Although an interesting country in many ways Brazil has no tradition in our sport. So the FIH has some additional conditions that have to be met for the host nation to qualify. Brazil had to be among the top 30 (top 40 for the women) in the global ranking by the end of 2014 or they have to finish among the top 6 (top 7 for the women) in their continental championship, the PanAm Games. Both the Brazilian men and women did not meet the first criteria so they have to perform during the PanAm Games that are about to start later this week in order to qualify. In case the host nations do not manage to meet these criteria (a likely scenario) their ticket will be issued to another country based upon first their World League tournament ranking and secondly the FIH world ranking (= the global ranking of all tournaments).
Tickets 2 to 6 (so five in total) are reserved for the continental champions previous to the Olympics. Asia already had their Asia Games and India (and for the women Korea) emerged as the very first to qualify for Rio there. The PanAm games are about to start later this week. The European cup is scheduled for the end of August. Both the Oceania Cup and the African Cup are to be played in October 2015.
Tickets 7 to 12 (so 6 in total) are reserved for the top 3 of both World League Round 3 tournaments. The World League is a complicated (too complicated) tournament, instated by the FIH after the London Games in 2012 and organised every two years. It allows all of their member nations to qualify for either the World Cup or the Olympics. The World league is a tournament made up of four (4) different rounds. The top 8 nations in the FIH world ranking are exempt for the first two rounds and only join in as of Round 3. But every country which is a member of the FIH is allowed to try and get their Olympic ticket by playing the World League. Some 50% of the FIH members (=countries) actually go for it. So Round 1 and Round 2 are played all over the world and the top 12 to come out of these qualify for the important Round 3 together with the top 8 nations. Round 3 of the World League is played in two different locations each hosting 10 countries allocated based upon the world ranking. The top 3 from each of these two tournaments qualify for the Olympics (= 6 tickets). The top 4 of each of these tournaments will go on to play the 4th and final round of the World League. Why remains a question… the 4th and final round will offer the title of World League champion but one could question if this really is a worthwhile title to pursue. Hockey values the Olympic title, the World Cup title, the continental title (maybe less in less competitive regions) and finally the Champions Trophy title because of its tradition. Adding yet another title tournament with the very confusing name World League (it’s not the same as the World Cup) seems to me not the way to go. I would suggest to merge the Champions Trophy and the World League Final Round, but that is another discussion… (click here and here to read some of these discussions)
Both of the Round 3 of the World League tournaments have been played and qualified for Rio 2016 are Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands (from the event in Buenos Aires) as well as Australia, Belgium and Great Britain (from the event in Antwerp).
So the decision is still out for the ticket for the host nation and 4 out of 5 continental championships. Now what happens if the host nations do not qualify and/or the continental champions are already qualified through the World League?
In that case the World League ranking of both Round 3 tournaments will determine who gets the free ticket(s), meaning the 4th ranked teams of the World League are very likely to qualify for Rio as well and even the 5th and 6th ranked teams of both tournaments still have a chance to qualify. If for example there is only 1 ticket left for both 6th ranked nations at the World League Round 3 the ticket will go to the country with the best ranking in the FIH World Ranking. So in this case New Zealand (6th in Buenos Aires and 7th in the world ranking) will be picked before Malaysia (6th in Antwerp and 12th in the world ranking). Check out the wikipedia page for this to keep up with the latest results and qualifiers in case the FIH site does not make sense to you…
To add to the confusion the most likely candidate to win the African championship, the South Africa men might not go to Rio anyway. The South African Olympic Committee, I’m lead to understand, has decided they do not value this title enough to qualify for Rio. Meaning if South Africa becomes the African champion it will offer an extra ticket to the 5th or 6th ranked teams of the recent World League Round 3 tournaments. So my “educated” guess will add the following 5 countries for Rio for the men: Canada, Spain, Ireland plus New Zealand and finally either Brazil (6th or better at the PanAm Games), Malaysia (6th at the World League) or a surprise African champion like Egypt maybe…
Maybe some last suggestions to the guys from the FIH to make it somewhat easier to understand it all:
- Rename the World League Round 1 & 2 to World League Preliminaries 1 & 2
- Rename the World League Round 3 to World League Qualifiers
- Rename the World League Round 4 to Champions Trophy – thus also eliminating the old Champions Trophy invitational event and add some value (based upon its history) to this title…