More than four decades after moving to synthetic surface, international hockey might soon return to grass, albeit partially. In a bid to make the sport more inclusive and viable, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is considering a move to relax the rule which makes it mandatory for matches to be played on artificial turfs, a top official said on Friday.
This change is likely to be introduced for the 2024 Olympic qualifiers, starting with the 2021 Hockey Series Open – a tournament for second-rung teams. FIH CEO Thierry Weil said the decision, if implemented, will ‘allow far more countries to be a part of the Road to Paris’. Weil, however, made it clear that at the highest level, matches will continue to be played on synthetic grass.
The idea is likely to be floated during the FIH Congress, which will be held in Delhi on Saturday, although it is not on the official agenda. “The idea we are considering is that Hockey Series Open 2021 can be played on any surface, including grass. Right now, a lot of countries are not being able to play because of lack of surfaces but we can be a lot more inclusive if we allow it,” Weil told The Indian Express.
At present, the FIH mandates that all international matches should be played on an artificial turf that has its certification. But the high installation and maintenance cost of these turfs have alienated a lot of countries and restricted the participation in international tournaments, according to Weil.
So, if a country wishes to play a leg of the Hockey Series Open on any other surface in future, the FIH will no longer object to it as long as the other participating countries give their consent.
“Any country in the world that’s willing to participate in it on a turf of their choice…be it in Latin America, Africa, Asia… if four or five countries decide to play on a turf of their choice, FIH will have no problem with it. That’s the vision,” Weil said.
Weil, who joined FIH in April following a long stint with FIFA as its marketing director, said one of the things hockey can take from football is that the sport can be played on any surface. “You just need a ball, a stick and two goal posts. In football, every girl and boy have a dream to play on the best pitches but 95 per cent play on surface that can be anything… concrete, mud. So it might not just be grass. Basically, any turf which is cheaper and equals to the level that we set,” Weil said.
Going forward, he said the FIH is also looking at ways to replace the existing water-based turfs with ‘surfaces that’re more sustainable.’ “We cannot be seen as a sport that’s wasting water,” he said.
The Hockey Series Open is a newly-launched tournament, which is at the bottom of the pyramid for Olympic qualification. The competitions under this banner are spread throughout the world, with the winner advancing to Hockey Series Final, of which India is currently a part of.
India confirmed for 2021 Pro League
The Pro League, FIH’s flagship tournament, 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. India had pulled out of it last year but Weil said India will join the Pro League in 2021. “To include India in the 2020 cycle would be complicated because of the Olympic year. But India will join the Pro League in 2021,” Weil said.