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Home and Away moves closer to becoming a reality

The world hockey scene is all set to undergo a transformation in the next two years as the Home and Away League for nine of the top international teams in men’s and women’s hockey comes into being.

The idea behind the move – which will involve the teams playing home and away fixtures in a six month window between January and June – is to consolidate events and appeal to more fans.

The Home and Away League has been in its embryonic stage for several months but new chief executive for the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Jason McCracken, is the man leading the changes.

From January 2019, the FIH will introduce a home and away league system in hockey, wherein teams will play each other in home and away series – much like how it is in cricket now – every year. The beauty of this from a fan’s perspective is that it increases the opportunities to watch teams play international fixtures. Until now, a Black Sticks supporter wishing to watch New Zealand play in a top tier international event would need to travel to England, the Netherlands, Argentina, India or Brazil. With the Home and Away League, fans can see up to eight home fixtures against top opposition every year.

In an interview with Indian news outlet DNA, FIH President Narinder Batra said: ”This is being done to increase hockey's popularity. For example, even though India hosts a World Cup, the stadium is half empty if India are not playing a match. What is the use of hosting and playing in big events if half of your stadium is empty? This gets very demotivating for everyone associated with hockey.

"We want to bring in a system where everybody gets involved, and this home and away series is one big way of doing it. This way, your home country is always playing," Batra added.

The League will play a part in qualification for the two blue riband Olympic events, the Olympic Games and the World Cup. It will also lead to more FIH world ranking points. To make way for the new league, the Champions Trophy will disappear from the calendar and the Hockey World League will be restructured.

FIH CEO McCracken said that the nations that did not qualify for the Home and Away League would still have plenty of opportunities to qualify for the big events and to progress up the world rankings but that hockey’s objective as a sport was to grow and attract a wider fan-base, while maintaining its core values and qualities.

On the FIH website, the following statement explains the thinking behind the new competition structure. “The criteria have been developed around meeting the three main objectives of the new event portfolio - to generate a massive change in TV and media coverage for hockey; create big, bold, packed and loud events and make a step change to increase future revenues for the sport.”

At the time of going to press, FIH has accepted the applications of the following nations for the home and away league.

Both men's and women's teams: India, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain

Only men's team: Pakistan, Malaysia

Only women's team: China, Italy, USA

Currently 13 women’s teams remain in contention, along with 12 men’s teams. The next stage in the process is for the FIH Event Portfolio Implementation Panel to evaluate submissions and make a final recommendation to FIH Executive Board. The final one nations selected will be announced in June at a special launch of the league. The FIH has stressed that the selection of nations will focus, not just on recent results, but on a nation’s sustainability among the top ranked nations.

As an article on the FIH website explains: “The latest phase of the application process required the National Associations to complete an extensive online questionnaire before the deadline of the 30th April 2017. This provides the FIH Event Portfolio Implementation Panel (EPIP) with in-depth information based on various aspects of their hosting and participation capabilities. This included information about financial sustainability, commercial vision, legal compliance, proposed venues, organisation and personnel, event delivery and presentation, team performance history, marketing strategies, motivation for participation, the proposed legacy impact and any added value they can bring to the competition.

“The FIH has also been undertaking extensive discussions with broadcasters regarding exposure and media coverage of hockey within each of the nations as well as working collaboratively with the selected National Associations on all aspects of the application process including, but not limited to, match scheduling, player welfare and commercial terms.

“Leading professional services firm, Deloitte LLP, will advise the FIH EPIP on the important aspect of financial sustainability, one of several experts working on assessing the various elements of the application submissions.”

The panel making the decision consists of Ken Read (Chair); FIH Chief Executive Officer Jason McCracken; FIH Executive Board Members Alberto Budeisky and Marijke Fleuren and FIH Athletes’ Committee Co-Chair Annie Panter. The panel will also be joined by former Welsh international hockey player Josh Smith as the selected independent member.

“To have 15 National Associations still in the running at this stage of the assessment process is fantastic news for the Home and Away League, a game-changing competition that is central to our 10-year Hockey Revolution Strategy”, said FIH CEO Jason McCracken. “The depth of information that we required the National Associations to provide was extensive and the quality of submissions received was outstanding.”

While the Home and Away League is an exciting innovation, it will doubtless raise questions over the coming months. Already, nations are asking how domestic leagues can cope with the drain from their ranks of top players? And there is also the question of how a nation that is just a few ranking points away from the top teams can make the step into the Home and Away League.

While FIH is forging ahead with its Hockey revolution, the rest of the hockey community will be watching the developments with interest and some level of caution.

Headline: Trio of sports break new ground

Three of the biggest international federations representing team sports have come together to address a problem that has bugged sports clubs, universities and schools for years. How to combine the playing surface needs of multiple sports users.

The fact that the three sports each have specific needs causes real headaches for designers when it comes to choosing the surface for multi-use venues. A lack of space in most cities and towns mean that separate pitches for each sport are unrealistic, while the cost of laying pitch facilities of any kind is prohibitive in deprived areas of the world.

In the past, a surface that is right for hockey would be far too flat and ungiving for rugby; likewise a turf designed for football would have a longer turf that would inhibit the skills of a hockey player. The dangers to the players of injuries caused by playing on an unsuitable surface were great and performance undoubtably suffered when players were asked to play on a surface that was not designed with their skill base in mind.

The International Hockey Federation (FIH), World Rugby (WRU) and the Federation International Football Association (FIFA) have come together to develop a ground-breaking protocol for multi-surface playing fields that could revolutionise how shared sports grounds are used and enjoyed around the world.

The One-Turf concept has been developed after input from numerous sporting bodies, with the two main priorities being player welfare and performance.

While it is specific to multi-sport venues, the concept can also be applied to any artificial turf sports field not designed to comply with a specific sport-based requirement.

The federations will continue to work with manufacturers and test laboratories in refining standards so as to increase the performance and longevity of the playing fields, which are so important to hockey, rugby and football, especially at the community level where available space and finances may be limited.

FIH Director of Sport and Development David Luckes said: “While short-pile products are preferred for hockey, the FIH recognises that this partnership can aid development by providing opportunities to play hockey on surfaces where there are no alternatives. This is particularly important in developing nations where many sports can join together to share facilities.”

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “This is a fantastic example of cross-sport cooperation that will benefit grass-roots sport all over the world. While the elite level of each code has a distinct need that often requires its own specific playing surface, 99 per cent of players fall outside that professional, elite group and have different requirements.

“Along with FIFA and FIH, we recognise that the promotion of multi-sport facilities is a cornerstone of the development of our sports in both established and new markets. It is also recognised that the key performance measure of these fields should be focused on player welfare and, as always, that is our number-one priority. Those seeking to provide safe and high-quality facilities are often in an environment where space and money are limited.”

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