DAYS AFTER alleging match-fixing at the World League semifinals in London, Hockey India has pulled out of one of International Hockey Federation’s (FIH’s) flagship tournaments, the Pro League. The decision was communicated to the FIH on Friday and the world body has begun its search for a replacement, it is learnt. The decision can have an impact on the Olympic qualifying hopes of the men’s and women’s teams as the Pro League is one of FIH’s main qualifying tournaments.
The Pro League is the newest competition on the FIH calendar and is due to launch in January 2019. The top nine men’s and women’s international teams will play each other on a home-and-away basis every weekend for six months from January to June. The top four teams at the end of the league will be awarded Tokyo Olympics berth.
Soon after the launch, FIH CEO Jason McCracken had said Hockey India was a ‘strong supporter’ of the tournament. However, India will not be a part of the event unless FIH convinces them otherwise. According to sources, India has cited the inferior ranking of the women’s team as the reason to withdraw.
“There will be 12 teams at the Olympics. Top four from the Pro League will qualify directly for the Tokyo Games. Six other teams from the World League will also make the cut while the remaining two spots will go to the next highest-ranked teams,” the source said. “Since India is ranked 13th in the world, the chances of them qualifying for the Olympics via the Pro League were relatively less.”
The official added Hockey India believed there are better chances of them qualifying via the World League and hence felt Pro League wasn’t worth it. “The ranking points system was finalised only after the teams were registered. It wasn’t beneficial to the women’s team. That is the reason Hockey India decided to pull out after confirming earlier,” the source said.
The official added that Hockey India did not have the option to withdraw just one team and hence, was forced to pull out the men’s team as well. “If Hockey India would have withdrawn the teams after July 17, then we would have been slapped with a two-year international ban,” the source said. Massive repercussions
The decision could have massive repercussions on the national team. The Pro League will see the world’s best teams play each other for six months every year. Pulling out of it means India will struggle to get competitive matches for half-a-year and will have to make do with lesser sides. The timing of Hockey India’s decision is also curious. Last week, Hockey India had written to the FIH, raising concerns of match-fixing attempts during recently held Hockey World League semi final in London.
They also accused FIH and England Hockey federation of not taking proper steps to protect players from visiting countries after former India captain Sardar Singh was called for questioning by the police in connection with a year-old sexual assault case. A Hockey India official, however, said the decision to pull out of Pro League was not related to complaint made to FIH.