The International Hockey Federations (FIH) intent to make the game crisp and spectator friendly by reviewing and modifying its rules frequently is a welcome move,especially at a time when the sport is under the constant scrutiny of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
In the latest round of experiments,the FIH has decided to do away with extra time for matches that remain undecided after the stipulated 70 minutes and has also imposed a 45-second time limit on penalty corners. Both these changes somewhat achieve their objectives. Speeding up corners makes sense,considering teams were taking awfully long to implement them,while also introducing a break during the play.
The FIH hopes the game will become quicker and more exciting with teams forced to play positive hockey and push for a result in regulation time instead of depending on the lottery that penalty shootouts can be. However,golden goals provided a unique dimension to the game — the unmatched drama and suspense it provided made for delightful and thrilling viewing for spectators. Even for the players,the pressure of going for the kill while making sure they dont get caught out at the back made for an intriguing challenge.
While the new changes may satisfy FIHs objectives,there was a greater need for the federation to review an earlier change,that of the own goals. By allowing teams to score via deflections through defenders,it now does not lay a lot of emphasis on creativity,skills and build up play. No one wants to see a player sprint towards the attacking third with his head down,dart the ball in,hoping a teammate or a defender will get a deflection on it.
Hockey remains a sport where the stick needs to do the talking. Instead of tinkering with the game,the FIH needs to revisit those changes that threaten to change it fundamentally.
(Mihir is a senior correspondent based in Mumbai)