India's men’s hockey team to join FIH Pro League next year

Considering its withdrawal from the ongoing inaugural edition of the FIH Pro League, India will rely on the Hockey Series Finals to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.

The Indian men's hockey team would join the elite Pro League a year early after the FIH approved the same on Tuesday.

India would join the competition in its second edition in 2020 after a spot opened up following Pakistan's withdrawal from the same. However, this is only for the men's team with the women likely to join only in 2021, as earlier planned.

The International Hockey Federation's Executive Board approved India's inclusion after it was unanimously supported by the other associations.“It’s great that India will join the FIH Pro League already next year. There is such a passion for hockey in the country that it will add a lot to our newest competition,” FIH CEO Thierry Weil said.

The FIH also tweaked the home-and-away concept to reduce the cost and travel burden on teams starting 2020, splitting it over two seasons — teams will host twice in 2020 and travel away in 2021.

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However, the 2020 edition of the Pro League would have no bearing on qualifications for the Olympics or the 2022 World Cup, the format for which is yet to be decided. “There were talks between Hockey India and FIH since a slot opened up in 2020 and we were also looking at the schedule and format and were happy to agree,” HI CEO Elena Norman said. For the women, though, a final decision would be taken only later with Elena informing that the FIH was also looking at possibly expanding the Pro League in 2021 from the present nine teams and the actual picture was yet to be finalised.

The Pro league has been facing trouble ever since it was first envisioned as a home-and-away competition. India had been one of the original participating teams but Hockey India had pulled out in July 2017, citing lack of clarity about points and format and Indian women's low ranking. In January, Pakistan pulled out due to lack of funds, reducing the 2019 edition to an eight-team event for men.

The inaugural edition is currently being played in a round-robin home-and-away format with the top four teams advancing to Olympic qualifiers, where they would join 10 others. The 14 teams would be paired as per world rankings for two games each with the winner on aggregate qualifying for Tokyo.