No Hockey India League in 2018, may return in 2019

Hockey India insists the break is only due to a clash of dates with the Indoor World Cup and it is not the end of the road for the Hockey India League.

After five successful editions, the Hockey India League will not take place in 2018.

It’s official. There will be no Hockey India League (HIL) in 2018 with Hockey India (HI) deciding to give the league a break next year and return in 2019.

The decision was taken at the Hockey India Governing Committee meeting here on Tuesday. Speculation on the future of the league had been floating for a while now, citing various reasons including franchise disinterest and financial viability.

However, the federation is insistent that the break was only due to a clash of dates with the Indoor World Cup next year and it was not the end of the road for what has been arguably the most popular professional league in the sport among the players worldwide.

“It wasn't possible to hold the HIL along with the World Cup and it would make no sense either. Plus there are the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the World Cup. It would have been very difficult for any country, including India, to ensure full participation in all of these and also the HIL. But let me categorically state that the league would be back in 2019, in the same, if not better way,” Hockey India and HIL governing committee member RP Singh said.

Another HI official admitted that there might be changes in the format, team composition and participation as and when the league returns.

What is interesting is that the dates for the 2018 Indoor World Cup were announced in January this year even as the HIL was on. Given that the HIL has been part of the FIH calendar since its inception with the world body providing a clear window for it all these years, and the fact that Narinder Batra had already taken charge as the FIH president at the time of announcement, one wonders how both Hockey India and the FIH were unaware of the clash of dates.

Franchises in the dark?

Also, while HI insisted that it had taken all stakeholders on board before finalising the decision, the franchises themselves were surprised by it.

“We have no official communique from them so far. But it definitely is disappointing. We will see how to go about it in future. We have invested a lot in the sport and will continue to do so but past instances anywhere haven't been too kind to leagues returning after a break. Let's see,” a representative of the Lucknow franchise, owned by the Sahara Parivar, said

However JSW Sports, who was expected to come on board as the seventh team from 2018 onwards with Bengaluru franchise, claimed the decision would not affect their plans despite the group being heavily invested in several other sporting leagues in the country.

“We are still interested and we understand the reason given behind the decision. As of now, we are very much there in the mix for the HIL and we look forward to joining the league in 2019,” JSW Sports CEO Mustafa Ghouse said.

The HIL is largely credited for not only providing financial security for both Indian and foreign players but also improving Indian men's side with the Junior team winning a historic 2016 World Cup and the seniors climbing to sixth spot in the world.

However, disinterest and financial constraints from some of the existing team owners had been a concern for the organisers for a while now. While HI has held out hope of a return of the HIL in 2019, the competition, even then would have to be reworked given the fact that teams – barring India – would be busy with the Hockey Pro League for the first six months of the calendar year.

“We felt it is time to review, evaluate HIL success and comeback with a fresh outlook that will benefit the development of the sport further and our franchises and stakeholders,” Hockey India secretary general and HIL chairman Mohd. Mushtaque Ahmad said.

There was no word on the review of the recent performances of the national teams, though.

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