By Rod Gilmour
World hockey chiefs have been asked to iron out concerns ahead of next year’s launch of the Hockey Pro League – which features Great Britain men and women, the Olympic champions – after reports emerged that the league’s management committee had called for an investigation surrounding the country selection process for the global top-tier event.
The allegations centre on India’s and Pakistan’s inclusion to the new annual tournament and comes to light following a blog post by Ashley Morrison, the well-known Australian hockey commentator and broadcaster, which was published last weekend.
It reveals that a letter was sent and signed last month to the governance panel chair at the International Hockey Federation (FIH) by the chair of the Hockey Pro League and co-signed by members of the League’s management panel.
The missive, as reported in the blog, requests “an independent investigation relating to the signing of a contract on behalf of the FIH that we have been informed could jeopardise the implementation of the Hockey Pro League and potentially lead to bankruptcy.”
It is understood that members of the league management panel were kept in the dark over contract agreements allegedly undertaken between FIH officials and Star Sports, the Indian broadcaster.
As Morrison writes: “The issue outlined in the letter concerns the contract between the FIH and Star Sports in India, in which it is claimed ‘that the FIH will ensure that India will participate in the Hockey Pro League’ and that ‘the FIH will use its best endeavours to ensure the participation of Pakistan.’”
The FIH confirmed the authenticity of the letter to The Hockey Paper in a statement.
“As a matter of principle, FIH does not comment on internal correspondence and documents of confidential nature,” an FIH spokesperson said.
“However, we can confirm that the FIH Governance Panel has received the letter and is looking into the matter.”
The annual global tournament Pro League, which is set to revolutionise the sport by bringing hockey to a wider audience, will launch in January when nine men’s and women’s international teams will play each other on a home-and-away basis until June.
The top four teams from the two tournaments will then compete in a Grand Final weekend and awarded Olympics inclusion for Tokyo 2020.
Prior to the announcement, nations were invited to bid for inclusion to the Pro League, with the FIH outlining “a competitive candidate evaluation process”.
However the Pro League management panel, in calling for transparency, is understood to have questioned “fairness and equality” in this application process after the matter reportedly came to light in a broadcast report sent to FIH Pro League panel members.
India men and women had originally been included as participatory Pro League teams before Hockey India pulled out of the global event last summer, with officials citing concerns over automatic qualification for the women’s team at Tokyo 2020, given the team’s lower ranking and only the top four teams earning an Olympic berth.
Pakistan men will play their home matches in Glasgow. Meanwhile, Spain and Belgium took India’s place in the men’s and women’s tournaments respectively.
Ireland men and women weren’t successful in their bid to join both leagues, while Malaysia men missed out. In the women’s event Belgium, Italy and Japan were unsuccessful.
The Hockey Paper contacted all the above nations for comment while Japan officials, who had not seen the full claims, had no “specific objection” to the FIH bidding process.
Following India’s withdrawal, the FIH subsequently hinted in December that “the door is open” for an India return to the Pro League in the future.
“There is a process by which countries can join the Pro League. When the time is right, we will welcome Hockey India in the Pro League. There are some challenges of course,” Jason McCraken, the then FIH CEO, told reporters.
McCraken, who took up his role in February 2017, unexpectedly stepped down later in December and will officially leave his position in June.
The FIH interviewed replacement candidates at its Lausanne headquarters last week, with an announcement due shortly.