Hockey Ireland misses out on new Pro Hockey League

Ireland’s bid to be part world hockey’s Pro League came to an end as they were left out of the International Hockey Federation’s final list, released on Sunday, for the first four seasons of the competition that launches in January 2019.

Hockey Ireland’s bid had seen them make the shortlist of 12 men’s teams and 14 women’s teams but the FIH has decided to invite nine sides on both sides to take part for the initial seasons of the worldwide home and away league.

The competition aims to have 144 one-off matches run off on a home and away basis between January and June each year, taking place at national stadiums across five continents.

It is part of the FIH’s intention to speed up the process to a more full-time professional hockey with a more attractive event portfolio with more live, broadcasted matches at its heart.

The organisation’s CEO Jason McCracken says the competition will “fuel the growth of our sport for many years to come, significantly increasing revenues for hockey. As a result, it will become a professional sport, making it a career choice for athletes”.

An explainer of the new competition from the FIH adds: “Today, too many of our events are planned without specific attention to the needs of TV, media and digital support. Too many of our events have no particular purpose or meaning for local fans. In short, they are simply not ‘fan-focused’ enough.”

“Our new events portfolio will ensure that every event has a unique role and purpose, that people will understand immediately, making them each strong, distinct and complementary. This is critical for us in raising our profile.

“Today, this work has resulted in the biggest and most exciting change to the way we deliver hockey to fans around the world – in our lifetime.”

The women’s event will be contested between Argentina, Australia, China, England/Great Britain, Germany, India, Netherlands, New Zealand and USA.

The men’s teams were confirmed as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England/Great Britain, Germany, India, Netherlands, New Zealand and Pakistan.

Hockey Ireland, in a tweet on the matter, stated that the bid fell through as they “don’t have a suitable venue yet”.

In terms of a suitable stadium, the inclusion of Pakistan has raised eyebrows; ranked five places below Ireland, due to security issues in their homeland, they will be using Glasgow as their home venue.

The National Hockey Stadium in Belfield, however, has been deemed unfit for international hockey for the time-being without, at least, a new turf being installed.

However, finances – as has been seen in the funding shortfalls for the 2012 Champions Challenge I in Argentina and the €225,000 raised for the Olympic effort in 2016 – is probably the real problem for Ireland’s application.

In terms of criteria, financial sustainability was the second listed criteria while team performance was the 10th of 11 listed deciding factors for nations to be selected.

For the Pro League, considerable expense would be incurred with trips to four different continents in quick succession likely to escalate Hockey Ireland’s costs many fold.

“National Associations were required to submit extensive information in order to be eligible, with sustainability the key aspect of the League’s long-term vision,” the FIH lay out in their explainer.

“We asked for detailed financial modelling, projecting budgets for both the participation in matches overseas as well as hosting matches in their homeland. Details about marketing proposals for promoting the League plus commercial strategies aimed at generating income were required, alongside evidence of financial sustainability.”

Under that scrutiny, with the sport’s recent history of financial arrangements, it is difficult to see how Hockey Ireland could fit the brief. The nine teams selected for the 2019 league will remain in place for the first four seasons of the competition with no second tier and no relegation.

As such, many concerns have been raised over what happens to the sides not selected to take part, particularly in relation to the creation of a chasm between the haves and have-nots in terms of quality.

It means a likely dearth of matches against the top sides to help continue Ireland’s improvements with the Pro League sides potentially pulling away from the others.

At this stage, there are not many details other than a hope from the FIH that the success of the Pro League will filter down to the rest of the world.

“We are confident that the increased commercial potential of implementing the new structure will generate considerably more value for the sport overall, which will filter down to all levels, including new and developing hockey nations, from elite to grassroots level.

“Of course, this will take some time, but we believe the benefits will be measurable and wide-ranging.”

At the moment, the FIH “aim to incorporate” the Pro League into the Olympic qualifying process with.

For now, Ireland will remain in the World League which will be reduced to two rounds which will not feature the Pro League teams. From this, some of the qualifiers for the two elite level events will be decided.

The European Championships – along with the other continental championships – will also remain in situ with the winner continuing to win either an Olympic or World Cup place.

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