The FIH this week confirmed the format for World League round three, the tournament from which Ireland will hope to earn an Olympic ticket, with the much-debated quarter-final format to be used once again.
Ireland’s men and women compete in the spring in World League round two in San Diego and Dublin, respectively, with a top three finish earning a place in round three.Succeed in that task and Ireland will be bound for a “semi-final” tournament with round three featuring two events of ten teams. On current terms, the men are likely to head to Argentina while the women are probably en route to Valencia, Spain – though both could also be allocated to the other round three venue in Belgium.
Both round three tournaments will feature ten teams which are divided into two groups of five. From those initial groups, the primary aim is to avoid the bottom rung of the group as fifth place is eliminated.
All the rest of the sides go through to a quarter-final spot. Win that quarter-final and an Olympic place – based on the system employed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup – is virtually assured.
Questions were raised in Bhubaneswar, India this week at the men’s Champions Trophy but FIH president Leandro Negre says that the knock-out format provides more excitement and potential media coverage to promote hockey.
“If after three days of competition, you eliminate four countries, four television channels are out of the mix; four sets of sports press are out. That does not promote hockey,” Negre said.
“We love to give opportunities to the last moment. If a team wins their pool and then loses to the last place in the other pool, it’s sport. I love these surprises. It keeps the teams, the press and the television more involved. We need to sell our sport and television rights.”
Indeed, Negre says that promoting the sport in this manner is a key part of the FIH strategic plan to potentially bring hockey to a much wider audience.
This has special relevance for the potentual make-up of the 2018 World Cup. Currently, the venue for the event could be in either Bhubaneswar, Delhi or Mohali but Negre said he is excited by the idea of splitting the competition over a couple of venues.In doing this, this could open up plenty of new opportunities that the current single venue set-up does not allow for televising more games.
“Television is very important for the promotion of all sports and we have to follow their advice. Next year, we start the new contract with Star Sports, a contract of eight-years.
“This will start a revolution in our sport. They are telling us it is crazy to have six matches in the same venue on one day because it is not possible to cover all of that on television, especially live.
“With 16 teams – because we have increased the number of participating teams – we could have four groups of four which could be split over two venues.
“If you can extend the days of the tournament and have just two matches every day, perhaps we can have more of the games live every day. That is the proposal and we will work closely with Hockey India and soon we will have the results of this. The decision will be taken in November 2015.”
Negre adds that hockey is gaining plenty of traction in this regard, especially in the wake of the dual men’s and women’s World Cup earlier his summer.
“This year, the Rabobank World Cup in the Hague was a tremendous occasion. I think it was the best way we have presented our sport and it was a fantastic promotion of hockey.
“You can see the figures following our events in terms of viewers, those connecting with Facebook and on the website as well as the spectators – about 250,000 during the tournament and in the millions on the television. It puts us at the top of the Olympic sports. That is very important.”
A number of rule changes are set to come into force at international level; Irish hockey will not be implementing any changes until after the completion of the current club season.
Given the success of the World Cup, it was suggested to Negre that both coaches and supporters will find it tough to cope with the constant changes.
The Spaniard, however, says that “we need to make more attractive” and the rule changes in recent times have been hugely beneficial but says there is a need to unify regulations across the different competitions.“I think this is a good question. We do need to make changes and I think the changes we have made have been for the best of hockey.
“Now, the game is much better than it was. Think about the self-pass! Introducing many changes, there can be confusion but, if we have a good idea, we need to implement that immediately to benefit all.
“We now have more followers than before because we changed the rules. At the moment, in different countries and different leagues, we are using different regulations. I think it important for us, the FIH, to test these ideas but we also need to unify all these regulations.
“The Euro Hockey League use regulations different from the FIH. The Australian Hockey League and the Hockey India League, too. In principle, we are in favour of making changes if the change is positive in helping us to develop the game.”
Specifically, Negre was questioned about the reduction in match time at international level to 60-minutes with 40-second time stoppages for goals and for penalty corners, leaving more “real time” with the ball in play.
Again, television is seen as a guiding reason and gives the viewer a much fuller experience.
“We need to have these ‘stops’ because hockey doesn’t have that naturally. These are important for television replays, for the viewers. It is part of making a very good product.
“We need to show the emotions of the players; their happiness – this is a fantastic image for television. Looking at the statistics from Beijing Olympics until now, the number of goals and penalty corners – the real time, which we need to think of, is more or less the same.
“From January, we will have some small changes to the rules – the long corner from the 25 line; and the free-in around the circle which no longer needs to be taken on the dotted line. This gives more opportunities to the attacking team and we like attacking hockey and goals, making it more spectacular.”