Sunday, July 21, 2024

No water and growing hockey: FIH candidate Marc Coudron sets out presidency aims

Marc Coudron, vying for world hockey presidency on Saturday, doesn’t proclaim to be an engineer but he will contact the heads of Fifa and World Rugby with the aim of tackling the issue of waterless pitches head on as one of his key priorities should he be voted in at the FIH Congress.

By the time Coudron takes his seat for the virtual vote in New Delhi, the Belgian would have spoken to the heads of around 100 nations as he seeks their nod to become the next world hockey president.

Coudron goes head-to-head with Narinder Batra, who is seeking re-election for the FIH hotseat, with the former making clear that he has different intentions to grow the sport, mainly from the bottom up. But not only that, he knows how important the pitch debate is in the environment stakes, so too keeping the 11 v 11 product as an Olympic sport, but also growing all three versions so that more nations can compete.

“I will contact the president of Fifa and rugby union to put the pressure on the manufacturers. We need to get high class pitches without water,” he tells The Hockey Paper. “It’s difficult to water pitches in the high summer and it’s actually scandalous that it’s happening still.

“Watering pitches in some countries is just not possible anymore and so for the future we have to find solutions for that even if we have to give back a little less [pitch] quality.

“We have to find solutions now and for the Olympics in 2028, why not? We have to get pitches of the same quality without using water and the manufacturers have to invent different pitches.

“I’m not an engineer but I’m sure we can find solutions for the different sports. What really matters for me is to play without watering a pitch.”

Coudron, a private banker and former international, has overseen Belgium’s rise to hockey powerhouse over the last 15 years but as he readies himself to leave the role and take on Batra, he believes he can serve the needs of the sport for the better. And he knows too that many lower nations don’t even have the capacity or infrastructure to install outdoor astro pitches.

“I’m coming from a country which is in the Pro League but I have to consider all the other nations, not the top ones,” he says. “We have to give possibilities for other nations to climb the ladder and to understand there is a better future for hockey. We have a responsibility.”

He also says he will fight tooth and nail to maintain the status of the 11 v 11 game and perhaps even look at the shortened indoor format becoming a Winter Olympic sport.

Coudron, who sat on the FIH exec board from 2010-2018, says it’s not a problem if a child plays one of the three sports, what matters is that they play one of the three products.

He doesn’t want to see is a “confrontation” where Hockey 5s is concerned. “What matters is a young boy or girl from Nicaruagua or Bangladesh, if he or she wants to begin hockey it doesn’t matter if it’s 11-a-sde, indoor or Hockey 5s, it’s that they start hockey.”

By enriching the sport at international grassroots level, he also wants to make it possible to compete at World Cups across the products.

He aims to rejig the World Cup showpieces, which is currently set at 16 teams for outdoor and 12 for indoor. “That’s not possible for me,” he admits. “We have to go to 24 teams indoor women and men and 24 teams for Hockey 5s men and women. We will then look to get subsidies for the government to get teams to play. We will then have better products, players and coaches and more sponsors. We have to expand the number of nations exposed to the world of hockey.”

Having accrued over 350 caps for Belgium, Coudron has seen the same top nations compete at the global tournaments with no other story lines filtering through to the top.

Coudron played at the 1994 and 2002 World Cups. “The names of those nations are still the same today and we need to close the gap between the nations,” he says.

So too the sponsors of hockey’s global tournaments. He notes Rabobank, Hero and Odisha as examples, without any global brands coming on board. 

FIH chief executive Thierry Weil told The Hockey Paper last year, pre-pandemic, that the FIH was close to inking a top tier sponsor for the Pro League but that never materialised.

Nations Cup gives countries chance of Pro League promotion

“That’s great,” he says of the previous World Cup sponsors, “but we need sustainable sponsors for the long term and I want to work with the big names on a good corporate social responsibility programme to help hockey to develop and have an impact on the lesser nations.”

This should be feasible given hockey’s off-pitch track record. “We don’t have any doping scandals, violence problems on and off the field,” he adds.

“The Pro League has to be self sufficient, the country has to cover their own costs with the TV rights. But it’s not possible that it’s a cost for the FIH. 

“Maybe we will have to adapt some points of it. It has a place but other than the Pro League there is really nothing for the nations for the 10th [ranking] down to 30th and beyond.

“But my main objective will be the development and we have to get back to a healthy financial status, as well as good governance.”

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