FIH looks to India to break even in 2020 Pro League

Hockey India had pulled out of the 2019 edition but the men’s team would be rejoining in 2020.

In the Pro League, the top nine teams play each other twice a year between January to June.   -  Getty Images

The second edition of FIH Pro League would be kicking off in January and even though doubts remain on its long-term sustainability, the international body is confident.

In an interaction with select Indian media on Tuesday, International Hockey Federation CEO Thierry Weil admitted there had been teething problems but insisted things would only get better going forward with India playing a large part in doing so. Hockey India had pulled out of the 2019 edition but the men’s team would be rejoining in 2020.

“I can say after the first season that it was a success not only measured by FIH but by the players as well. The two main feedback we received was how great it was to play against the best teams in the world at home but also how tiring all that travel had been. We have have now tried to change the schedule for 2020 and cut the travel in half,” Weil explained.

In addition, the FIH has dropped the Grand Finale in 2020. “This is to give teams 6-8 weeks to prepare for the Olympics, which is important. But we have not planned to bring it back in 2021. You need to find a nation to host it and national associations agree it is not realistic to commit not knowing if their team will actually participate in the Pro League,” he added.

Pakistan is a prime example with the team committing to the inaugural edition only to pull out citing financial issues. And although Weil insisted “all participating nations have declared to continuing” in the Pro League beyond 2020, the actual scenario would be known only later. Weil, nevertheless, sounded confident. “What we need to do now is to build a regular format instead of changing it every year. If people understand what is on stake, it will work in favour of continuity,” he hoped.

Travel expenses have been talked about but there has been opposition from European clubs also. “We have done changes to accommodate European clubs. There is an empty month in April mainly to respect the clubs. The biggest goal is to have an international calendar for the next 6-8 years. It is achievable but everyone has to give in a bit,” he admitted.

Asked if the Pro League, where the top nine teams play each other twice a year between January to June, would be able to draw in crowds for what would largely be two-leg bilateral games, Weil said, “For me, the Pro League is like a quarterfinal or semifinal of a major event like World Cup every weekend. It’s now our responsibility to make people understand that these are not just friendly games,” he said.

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