The FIH Pro League will offer direct qualification to future World Cups and Olympic Games following a major change to the fledgling competition.
Perhaps in a bid to save the future of the global league – which has suffered financially as well as fail to obtain a title sponsor – the FIH said on Friday that there would be now more to play for in the Pro League, with two direct berths for the World Cup and 2028 Olympics from the 2023/24 season.
Thierry Weil, the FIH chief executive, told an online media briefing that winners of Season 5 and 6 would qualify for the 2026 World Cup, while the champions in Season 7 and 8 would qualify for the Los Angeles Olympics and give “real meaning” to the Pro League.
Weil said that the qualification wouldn’t affect continental championships, which also offers places at its showpiece World Cups, as well as the Olympics.
Season 4 of the loss-making league – accounts revealed that the first year deficits amounted to circa £1.2 million – starts this month with promotion and relegation occurring for the first time, thanks to the introduction of the second-tier FIH Nations Cup, which begins in December. “It has to be an open league,” said Weil.
The global league has gone through various changes since its introduction, which initially began as a global home and away league, with nations travelling across the globe.
The changes also tie in with the credibility of the league, with some teams blooding younger players, while many believe that the Pro League amounts to little more than a warm-up for major competitions.
The FIH has since opted to return to a near Champions Trophy-style format, with cluster tournaments taking place for this season to reduce travel and focus on player welfare.
The FIH confirmed to The Hockey Paper that the new changes have been approved ahead of the upcoming Congress in early November.
Meanwhile, Weil said that the FIH had received a missive from Hockey India harbouring a desire to revive the Hockey India League and find a suitable date in the already cluttered international and domestic calendar to stage the HIL.
The issue of up travel at the upcoming World Cup was also questioned, with Weil stating that chartered flights would be arranged between Bhubaneswar and Rourkela.
Trying too hard to replace Champions Trophy?
In a column for The Hockey Paper this month, China women’s coach Alyson Annan wrote of the Pro League: “Three different editions, three different finals procedures, not to mention the rules applied to matches that, in my opinion in sport, just don’t match up with a fair common ground that teams are meant to play on.
“Then we have the visibility of the game. I was thrilled as a coach to be able to watch more games throughout the year. This was a good thing for our sport. Increase the visibility to our game. I am an active spectator of the sport and I had difficulty watching the match.
It is understandable that the TV rights are sold, particularly given the costs of holding this tournament. But the sport must be visible and easily accessible for supporters to watch the games. The watch.hockey app was at times not accessible or did not allow you to watch the matches.
“Then there is the question, do teams take it seriously? It has been seen in the past that teams do not always send their best teams to play these games. In the first edition you had to present a players’ list that you could select your team from of 28 players. Since Covid, that has been abolished and no limits were set in the previous edition, which meant teams were sending second teams, or junior teams to play Pro League matches. So why play a tournament when teams send junior teams to play?