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Pro League doors open, India make hockey strong: FIH CEO

The FIH assurance comes despite India pulling out of the event initially.

Reported by: PTI, Bhubaneswar [ Updated: December 04, 2017 10:58 IST ]
FIH
A file image of the Indian hockey team.Photo:HOCKEY INDIA

Hockey needs India for its long-term survival and the International Hockey Federation has left the doors open for the eight-time Olympic champions to join its ambitious Pro League, set to be introduced in 2019. 

The FIH assurance comes despite India pulling out of the event initially. 

Welcoming India with open arms, FIH CEO Jason McCracken said hockey is "stronger" when India is around. 

"The FIH would be delighted to have India as part of the Pro League. I think in future when the time is right I hope India will be joining us because hockey is strong when India is there," McCracken said during a press conference here on the sidelines of the ongoing Hockey World League (HWL) Final. 

"We are always talking to Hockey India. The doors are always open. There is a process by which countries can join the Pro League." 

Specifically asked whether India can join the maiden edition of the Pro League after initially withdrawing from the event, the FIH CEO said: "The doors are open now. We are working on the schedule. There will be 144 games all over the world so we have to adjust the schedule. There is a process and not only India other countries can join the Pro League." 

Projected as the most prestigious hockey event after the Olympics and World Cup, the Pro League is a home-and-away league that will feature nine countries in both men's and women's competition. 

"We think it's going to be a fantastic success because all the 144 games will be a home match for one or the other team. When we see India play we see a packed stadium and that's what we want see all over the world," he said. 

India were initially part of the nine nations in both men's and women's hockey for the Pro League set to be played between January and July 2019, with the top four teams assured of Olympic qualification for 2020. 

But Hockey India (HI) later withdrew from event, saying that they don't see the tournament helping its women's team qualify for the Olympics or World Cup. 

After HI announced their withdrawal, the FIH had named Spain and Belgium as replacements in the men's and women's competitions of the league. 

International hockey is presently going through a transition phase and the next two years could be important for the growth of the sport. 

"We want hockey to be a super star sport like every other major sport in the world. Next year is important because it is a transition year. We have Indoor World Cup, two World Cups (women in London and men here), two Champions Trophies and we have the youth Olympic Games in Argentina. 2018 is a big year for hockey," McCracken said. 

"In 2019 we see another transition. We see the beginning of the Hockey Pro League and the replacement for this event (HWL Final) which is the Hockey Series Open and the Hockey Series Finals will be in 2019." 

Stating that the series will be a two-level event (Hockey Series Open and Hockey Series Finals), unlike the existing HWL, which is a four-level tournament, the FIH CEO said the future augurs well for the sport. 

"Hockey is in a great shape. The Hockey Series Open is open to all nations in the world. We have had 70 national associations which have applied to be part of the Hockey Series Open.

"From the Hockey Series Open the winners will go through to three Finals that we play in 2019. From the three Hockey Series Finals the first and second finishing teams will go to the Qualifying event for the Olympics," he said. 

McCracken also said that hockey has been confirmed in the roster for the 2024 Paris Olympics and discussions for 2028 Los Angeles Games are on as well.

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