Hockey India justifies withdrawal from FIH Pro League

The decision to pull out of the contentious league stems from the uncertainty and lack of clarity regarding ranking points and a qualifying system.

A file photo of FIH head Narinder Batra. Hockey India has also hinted at apparent bias towards European sides in the HPL as one of the reasons for its withdrawal.   -  PTI

Even before it could kick off, the ambitious home-and-away Hockey Pro League has run into trouble with Hockey India withdrawing from the same, as was first reported by Sportstar.

The HPL, slated to begin from January 2019 and one of the qualifying events in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics, is yet to make details of its ranking points and qualifying system public and Hockey India's decision stems from the uncertainty and lack of clarity regarding the same. The decision to withdraw was taken by HI on July 7 and as things stand now, has been accepted by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). 

HI has also hinted at apparent bias towards European sides in the HPL as one of the reasons for its withdrawal. A senior HI official confirmed the move and claimed that, in its present form, the HPL clearly favoured the Europeans. "In the present format, the five continental champions and host qualify automatically. The top-four teams from HPL, top six from the Hockey World League Round 2 along with the two highest ranked teams not yet qualified would fight out for the remaining six spots.

"Now, the Indian women are ranked around 12-13 at the moment and the other Asian sides are also around that mark. Only one Asian team can be the continental champion. By the current HPL system, most of the teams managing to qualify would be from Europe. It is detrimental to Asia, specially among women, with teams uncertain to even make it to the qualifiers.

"Even this system is not officially finalised as of now, this is only what the current status is. There is lack of clarity. Also, the ranking system was decided after the teams had been registered and shortlisted. And with July 17 being the last date for withdrawals, if we had delayed our decision, we would have had to not only pay a fine but also risked suspension from all international hockey for two years. No one is saying give free passage to the Olympics but the route to at least the qualifiers must be fair to everyone," the official said.

Instead, the thinking in HI circles is that it would be better to take the HWL route to the qualifiers given that Round 2 competitions have comparatively weaker teams with a higher chance of India making through.

Raw deal

Ironically, in all this, it's the India men's team - ranked sixth in the world currently - which has got a raw deal. Since India's application was combined for both men and women, it would have to withdraw both its teams from the Pro League. Contrary to speculations that the move was triggered by HI's recent complaint to FIH on the Sardar Singh issue, HI rubbished the charge. "The two have no connection at all. The Indian men were more likely to make the cut through Pro League but we couldn't have allowed the women's team to suffer either. There is still a long way to go for 2019 and a lot can happen by then. Let's see," an office-bearer of HI said.

India's withdrawal would be a big blow to not just the competitiveness of the HPL but also its revenue targets. At the same time, given that the HPL would be played over weekends for almost six months a year, it would also mean the Indian teams losing out on competition against top sides.

Revenue generation and ability to draw crowds was one of the reasons the Pakistan men's side made the cut ahead of higher ranked teams like Ireland, even though it would have to play its home games in Scotland. Given that India contributes a major percentage of FIH's revenue, its absence would be a concern.