Teams seek clarity on ambiguous Hockey Pro League

Coinciding with both the Hockey India League here and the European Hockey League, the HPL has been in unfamiliar territory.

The Hockey Pro League remains a mystery for many, including players and coaches, and the format and the details as opaque as they were when it was first launched.

Jason McCracken sprung a surprise recently when he announced here that the doors were open for India to join the Hockey Pro League starting 2019. The FIH CEO's statement underlined India's importance in world hockey commercially — both for the revenue and the crowd support.

But it also reiterated the International Hockey Federation's commitment to the ambitious new home-and-away league that would stretch over the first six months of a calendar year. However, with just one year to go before the HPL actually kicks off – a year that has several top-drawer international events lined up – the project remains a mystery for many, including players and coaches, and the format and the details as opaque as they were when it was first launched.

Coinciding with both the Hockey India League here and the European Hockey League, the HPL has been in unfamiliar territory. The HIL has  already been sacrificed, at least for the time being, and moved to the end of the year for 2019. That is, if it does happen. The EHL is yet to decide its schedule.

“Yeah, the calendar is one of the things that needs to be worked out. There are other things as well that need tweaking but will let the people who deal with that stuff to take care of it,” England's Barry Middleton admitted. The European season runs through the summer till the beginning of December before resuming in the new year.

The feeling is unanimous. “I am still confused myself. You don’t know what the rules are, and you are guessing things and it is never good to guess. We’ll see how it goes. At this point of time, it’s a bit of a concern for us also – who does what and what do we do?” Dutch coach Max Caldas added. “We face some challenges with our club hockey and how it fits in. The reality is we face this in a lot of other sports, we see it in county cricket,” England coach Bobby Crutchley joined in.

The possibility of India re-joining the elite nine-nation club, after withdrawing in July citing lack of clarity and an European bias, has only muddied waters further. In case that does happen, it would be interesting to see how the competition pans out. An increase in the number of teams would mean an even longer season. But McCraken reiterating that the number of matches was likely to remain 144 would mean excluding one of the teams already committed.

“No one knows what the finished product looks like at the moment. India withdrawing was something that surprised us when it happened
(but) the teams in there are worthy of it,” Middleton said.

Caldas was less diplomatic. “That’s what I find strange about the FIH, they sometimes say things that I don’t know if they think through. It’s not about the teams – I would love for India to be a part of it. But budgets, money, costs of travel and for us, Germany and Belgium, there's also club hockey, so you cannot just join in and say “woo hoo, we join in”. It’s not a party, it's a controlled group,” Caldas declared.

With the cash cow of HIL already in doubt, the biggest fear for everyone is the loss of another important, quality league. As Caldas put it, “We don’t know the rules yet. The risk can be that it’s a bit crazy and then we’ll suffer with club hockey as well. We don’t want that. We would love to hear more about their intentions.”

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