By Claire Middleton
The International Hockey Federation’s new global competition will mean England players travelling as far as Australia or New Zealand to play one meaningful match.
The new nine-team format is going to move away from tournament hockey in favour of soccer-style one-off games with the aim of attracting more regular television coverage and turning the sport’s international players into superstars.
While the World Cup and Olympics will remain largely unchanged, the new Home and Away League will see nations heading across the globe for large chunks of the first six months of the year.
“It will be an amazing challenge,” said new FIH chief executive James McCracken. “It will require a new mentality – travelling and building up for a one-off match.
“It’s a big shift and different thinking will be required, but it’s not usual in football.”
National governing bodies will have to pay all their team’s travel expenses but will be eligible for 50 per cent of any commercial revenue, plus any income from ticket sales.
The competition, which will start in 2019, will require major changes to England’s domestic National League – and possibly to those in Scotland and Wales, assuming Great Britain are allowed to participate when the Olympics loom.
However, with the Olympics in 2020, Great Britain’s participation is not yet assured as the thorny issue of “double dipping” has yet to pass the FIH Executive Board.
“It’s likely Scotland and Wales will compete in the lower tiers under their own flags but that scenario still has to be passed by the Executive Board,” said the FIH’s new chief executive Jason McCracken.
“The Great Britain situation is an anomaly which tends to leave the rest of the world scratching their heads and, because of the new format, is back on the agenda.”
While this international reshuffle has major domestic ramifications should England take part – and they have applied for both men and women – the greater nightmare would probably be if they lost out.
According to McCracken, 18 nations have applied for nine spots with participation resting on marketing and global reach almost as much as world rankings.
The League will provide the major means of Olympic and World Cup qualification, with a version of the World League format providing opportunities for lesser nations.
McCracken reckons there will still be room for meaningful domestic competition but National League clubs, whose next meeting about the issue with England Hockey was scheduled for this week, will need to be convinced.