One of the hallmarks of international hockey has been its willingness to evolve. By tweaking the format of the game yet again, the world body, International Hockey Federation (FIH), has shown again it is not afraid to chop and change to keep itself relevant.
The sport’s world governing body introduced the quarter-system and reduced the match time by 10 minutes on Thursday. These rule changes follow an array of amendments made to the game’s laws in the last two years. Some of them include the abolishment of extra time, introduction pink-and-blue turfs and own goals.
But it’s not just been about introducing new rules. The hockey body has not hesitated on reversing its decisions when they have backfired or making slight adjustments to the existing ones.
Take for instance the own goal rule. Soon after it was implemented a little more than a year ago, the traditionalists moaned about the lack of skill and creativity in scoring goals with what they called ‘hit and hope hockey’. The FIH was swift to respond and decided to do away with the rule.
The FIH also briefly experimented by using the blue-coloured turf only in the ‘D’ while the rest of the playing area remained green. This was done during the World League semifinals in London last year with an intention to help spectators differentiate between important areas of the field. However, the concept was dropped after that solitary fling.
Even with the new rule changes, there are initial concerns about loss of momentum and continuity during matches because of the extra breaks in the four-quarter system. But as in the past, one can expect the rules to be modified or scrapped if they impede the game itself.
The FIH has acknowledged in the past that they have been at pains to make hockey spectator friendly and consumable for a bigger audience. It was for this reason that the sport was nearly axed from the Olympic programme in February 2013.
At least they are making regular rule changes whereas other sporting bodies seemingly shy away from it. And that should benefit the sport as it aims to compete in a congested marketplace on television.
Mihir is a senior correspondent, based in Mumbai.