The International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) all-play-quarterfinal format in eight-nation tournaments, including the ongoing Hockey World League (HWL) Final, might not have been liked by all the teams but the world body is no mood to tweak it.
In fact FIH has hinted that the upcoming Hockey Series, a new two-level event starting next year, may be played in the same format.
The all-play-quarterfinal format existing in the FIH’s four-tier HWL has come in for some criticism from a few teams which have failed to progress beyond the last-eight stage despite finishing on top in pool stages.
Olympic silver medallists and world no. 3 Belgium lost to India in the quarterfinals despite maintaining an all-win record in the pool stages. But the FIH says that the all-play-quarterfinal format is in Bhubaneswar to stay as it keeps a tournament alive till the very end.
“I don’t agree that the current (all-play-quarterfinal) format is flawed. There are some people who are criticising it but this format gives a level playing field to all teams. This format keeps all the teams in fray till the last day,” FIH President Narinder Batra told PTI on the sidelines of the HWL Final.
“I agree we need to keep bringing in new innovations but I am a firm supporter of this format. Whoever has designed this format has to be commended,” he said.
The existing all-play-quarterfinal format allowsunfancied teams to qualify for the World Cup or Olympics like the Indian women’s hockey team that benefitted from their fifth-place finish in World League Semifinal in 2015 and secured their ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The best thing about the format is that it allows all teams a second chance.
Both Olympic champions Argentina and India were unimpressive to say the least in their pool stages but they came good in the quarter-finals to qualify for the last-four stage. In fact, the Los Leones went on to reach the title clash after eking out a close 1-0 win over the hosts in their semifinal yesterday.
The Indians, though, have another chance to finish on the podium as they play in the bronze medal match on Sunday. The script was exactly the same for India in the last edition of the tournament in 2015.
In 2015 in Raipur, India had started off badly in the pool stages, losing to Argentina 0-3 in the first game, splitting points with Germany with a 1-1 draw in the second game before losing to the Netherlands 1-3 in the final league match. But the format allowed them to qualify for the quarter-finals, where they beat England 2-1.
Although their journey ended in the semi-finals against Belgium, India managed to win a bronze.
FIH CEO Jason McCracken agreed with his President and said that the world body doesn’t have any plans to change the format.
“I think this format is absolutely right for the game as it keeps the tournament alive right to the very end. This format is in place for a long time and we are going to stick to it,” McCraken told PTI.
“This format keeps all teams involved. I know some of the coaches don’t like it but I say to those coaches that ‘win all your games and you will win the gold’,” he added.
Incidentally, FIH hasn’t finalised the nitty-gritties of the Hockey Series yet and is contemplating whether to use the all-play-quarters format in the event.
The two-level Hockey Series (Hockey Series Open and Hockey Series Final) will be played by teams apart from the 18 nations (9 men and 9 women) who have confirmed for the ambitious Hockey Pro League to start in 2019.
The Hockey Series will also serve as qualifiers for World Cup and Olympics.