International hockey at the top level would continue to be 11-a-side and the game would be encouraged to be played on all kinds of surfaces at the grassroots to bring more nations into the hockey fold, it was decided during the 46th FIH Congress which culminated here on Saturday.

The four-day gathering saw over 250 delegates from 112 countries taking stock and strategising to further spread the game in the next two years.

Insisting that the FIH was committed to sustainable development of the game, CEO Thierry Weil said that while international hockey at the highest level would continue to be played on artificial turf, the federation was in talks with manufacturers and suppliers to develop a surface that would not consume water. The current surface requires constant watering to allow a smooth game and avoid injuries.

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“We are looking to achieve this by the Paris Olympics in 2024, but try and do it much earlier, develop a surface close to the quality we have right now on turf with water. It will have to be a combination of turf, ball and footwear, but we cannot continue to put all this water on turf when people next door may not have enough to drink,” Weil said.

Weil also confirmed that the FIH was working to dispel the misconception that hockey was restricted to the turf. “Hockey is a game to have fun and can b played anywhere. When I entered FIH I got the impression that hockey can only be played on turf which is wrong. Like football (he was marketing director with the FIFA) hockey can be played on mud, grass, gravel – of course, once you go higher, there has to be a standard surface to provide all teams with a level playing field. But, you can start off anywhere, even the streets,” he insisted.

“We will start five-a-side exhibition games from next year. It plays a very important role in spreading the game. Instead of bringing people to the game, the game can be taken to the people in the centre of a city in the shorter format. But, we are very clear that it will not replace 11-a-side, that is played in Olympics and it will stay there,” he said.

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“The two can easily co-exist. Especially for the smaller countries, it is extremely important, they can take only nine players instead of 22, the cost of travel and training is also less. Five-a-side allows more teams to participate and that is our way to encourage more teams, as can be seen from the fact that Vanuatu had a hockey team at Youth Olympics,” FIH president Narinder Batra added.

Weil also confirmed that Vanuatu had played a five-a-side competition as part of the Hockey Series Open – the first stage in the Olympic qualifiers. “A party played five-a-side in Vanuatu but these are really small islands. Once they qualify for the next level, then they will have to play 11-a-side,” he added.

He also announced the launch of FIH’s live channel online on January 10 to allow streaming and recording of all games at all levels across the world.