BY : ROELANT OLTMANS
After facing the threat of being axed from the Olympics, it has become necessary for hockey to evolve and move forward with time.
The International Hockey Federation (FIH), on Thursday, introduced some major changes to the game which are aimed at meeting the commercial needs of the game while ensuring its basic nature is not compromised.
With the growing demands of the television producers and keeping in mind the economic interests of hockey itself, these innovations are required.
As we have seen during the Hockey India League, additional breaks provide a broadcaster an opportunity to make some returns on their investments and at the same time, improve the viewer-experience with special analysis programmes. For a game like hockey, that is essential.
The FIH got a new television deal with the same broadcasters recently. It seems they are encouraged by the response received during the HIL and hence have applied the same rules for the game globally. As much as the TV producers, even the hockey family needs the game to be economically viable to sustain itself.
The new format, meanwhile, will certainly have a huge impact on the game. Even though the total playing time has been reduced from 70 minutes to 60, I don’t think there will be much difference in the overall game time.
The 10 minutes less playing time will not be practiced in reality. There will be stoppage time for goals and penalty corners, which will eventually mean that we will end up spending close to 70 minutes on field. Only in situations where there are no goals and penalty corners will we see a match get over in one hour. But that scenario is highly unlikely to arise.
What will happen, though, is that there will be more moments of rest during the game. Due to the physical and quick nature of the game, even the fittest and best players can break down quickly.
The stoppages will give more time to the players to rest which means the top players can play more minutes during a game. That’s one of the biggest positives of the new rules.
Hockey will continue to remain as fast as it is today but you might get to see more tactical variations. The time-outs will give coaches an opportunity to re-strategise and should encourage them to keep their key players on the field for longer duration. That will allow us to see more skillful hockey and in turn raise the quality of the game.
At the moment, I do not see any drawbacks of the new rules. We have seen how successful and viewer-friendly they are during the HIL as well as the European Hockey League.
Even though we have little less time (the other tournaments have each quarter of 17-and-a-half minutes) but overall, it is good for the development of hockey.
World over, the biggest challenge for the sporting bodies has been to strike a balance between meeting the commercial needs and not damaging the game itself. On this occasion, the FIH has found a reasonable way to do that.
(As told to Mihir Vasavda)