Season 5 of the FIH Hockey Pro League kicked off this week with the sport without a CEO, the global competition still short of a title sponsor, some nations questioning its relevancy and others having pulled out over costs.
Thierry Weil resigned as world hockey’s chief executive last month, having previously outlined to this publication that a top line sponsor was in the offing.
That never materialised as the global league continued to be tinkered with. Now, there does seem to be an incentive. Promotion and relegation has been laced with direct qualification to World Cups and, soon, the Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, there are fresh, more inclusive broadcast rights deals — forged by Weil before he left the role — for the next tranche of Pro League seasons, which could see more promotion across digital media.
In September, the Pro League was put under scrutiny from a competing nation after Hockey Australia questioned the current model and said it could withdraw completely if the FIH failed to respond to proposals set out by some competing nations.
Australia will compete in Season 5 but officials were in talks with the FIH over the green and gold competing for Seasons 6-8. A decision was set for November but put back until this month.
For the first time, the men’s and women’s teams that win the FIH Pro League title will receive direct spots to the 2026 World Cups, to be held in Belgium and Netherlands.
This year’s Pro League started in Argentina, with Great Britain and the Netherlands visiting.
It will be a key outing for the GB teams, with both Argentina and the Dutch men and women having already qualified for Paris 2024. The Pro League will offer up some stiff competition ahead of GB men and women – David Ralph’s women side lost 8-0 to the Dutch on Thursday night – attempting to qualify for next summer’s Olympics via the qualification events in mid-January.
And perhaps that’s the continued underlying theme of the FIH’s flagship event: teams using the competition for the wider picture. (Although GB women’s decision to set up base in Buenos Aires for a training camp after starting sluggishly last season suggests otherwise).
The logistical format of the Pro League games saw an evolution in season 4 with the introduction of mini-tournaments and season 5 will see the same. Each team will face the other eight teams twice in the season, a total of 16 games played by each team.
The full season is split into multiple mini-tournaments, where a set of three will gather in one host nation and play all their matches against each other, setting up six games per mini-tournament.
Through season 5, multiple tournaments will be played across Argentina, India, Belgium, Great Britain and Netherlands.
For the first time two teams were promoted into the FIH Hockey Pro League through the promotion-relegation system introduced, in tandem with the FIH Hockey Nations Cup.
India women were promoted to the Pro League top tier following their victory in the inaugural Nations Cup. USA finished at the bottom of the table in the Pro League season 4, but remain in the competition following New Zealand’s withdrawal (citing travel costs) from season 5.
In the men’s competition, New Zealand men finished in the last position and were relegated.
South Africa, winners of the FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup secured promotion to the Pro League season 5, but decided to withdraw from season 5, and were replaced by Ireland who finished as runners-up at the Nations Cup.