It has been eight months since Jason McCracken took charge as the CEO of International Hockey Federation (FIH) and the biggest event in his brief tenure has been the recent launch of the Hockey Pro League, a nine-team international event that would not only be the biggest and most extensive competition in the sport, but also a new experiment in taking international hockey every weekend to audiences across the world.
Excerpts from an interview:
The new Pro League sounds exciting but the biggest concern is what happens to the domestic leagues in various countries?
We are in talks with both national associations and clubs in Europe and other countries to work out the details of the European Hockey League. Of course, Hockey India has been a strong supporter of the Pro League and we have had discussions with them as well regarding the Hockey India League (HIL). As of now, what has been worked out is that while some of the nations will move their domestic leagues to a later date, others will be able to work out windows and slots between the six-month period during which the Pro League will also be held.
Also, we have to remember that the national squad size is normally around 32, so that’s the number of players who would be associated with the Pro League. This means there will be more opportunities for other players to figure in domestic leagues and expand the game.
(Hockey India CEO Elena Norman confirmed to Sportstar that while the HIL will continue to be held in the months of January-February till 2018, it would be held in November-December in 2019, when the Pro League would kick off. The European Leagues, meanwhile, would look to work their schedule simultaneously around the Pro League eve as Norman asserted that the HIL would retain a window on the international calendar).
You said that there would be a Pro League Grand Finale at the end of the four-year period. How would the top-four teams be decided?
Let me clear the confusion. There is no single Grand Finale after four years. The Pro League is an annual event, with a finale between the top four teams, decided on the basis of points accumulated, every year at the end of the six-month home-and-away period. So there will be a Pro League winner every year. When we said four-year period, it was to emphasise that this was a long-term project and not a short-term experiment and that the nine teams listed for the competition would be part of it for the entire four-year period.
With the Pro League also doubling up as a qualifying event for the World Cups and Olympics, how would that be done?
The top four teams that qualify for the finale would also qualify for the Qualifying event of the World Cups/Olympics. Of course, the continental champions continue to get direct entry. We are also looking to rework the world rankings system in the light of these developments to incorporate the new tournament and also ensure that it is fair to everyone.
Africa as a continent has been completely ignored in the Pro League. How does that fit in with the FIH’s plans to spread the sport and make it more inclusive?
We would love to have a team from Africa. That said, it is important to understand that the Pro League is a commercial entertainment product and, as such, finance and marketing was a big part of the final decisions. South Africa was among the applicants for the Pro league in the initial stages but then withdrew from the process, mainly for commercial reasons. They opted out before deliberations began, we did not reject their bid.
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