The Champions Trophy saga shows International Hockey Federation cares two hoots for history and legacy

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The International Hockey Federation (FIH) cares two hoots for history. Nothing underscores the callous disregard for historical events than the decision to junk the elite Champions Trophy.

If the FIH have their way — and the governing body has the veto over all such decisions — the last of the Champions Trophy events was played in Changzhou (China) last month, where The Netherlands swamped Australia 5-1 to win the women’s title. This was the seventh title for the Dutch women, equalling the record of Argentina.

Representative image

Representative image

The men’s Champions Trophy, played earlier in the summer in the Dutch city of Breda, was won by Australia, who defeated second-time finalists India in the title encounter. There may not be an encore.

The Champions Trophy has a chequered history, second only to the World Cup, among FIH events. But the glorious chapter of this showpiece event on the FIH calendar comes to an end as the proposed FIH Pro League rolls out.

The whole exercise is to safeguard their new FIH Pro League, which may turn out to be another event before its time, just as the Hockey World League turned out to be after its launch in 2012. A chequered event is being scrapped for an uncertain future.

This year’s events marked the end of the road for the tournament that for more than three decades featured the elite hockey-playing nations of the world. In competitive terms, the Champions Trophy was touted to be even tougher than the World Cup.

Colin Batch, a former Australian international whose showcase would have several Champions Trophy medals, said: “It’s a shame that the Champions Trophy is being discontinued.”

Coach of the twice World Cup defending champions, Batch brought to the fore the angst of the international hockey fraternity watching their second-longest running tournament being given the boot from the next year.

“There are several tournaments these days, we can’t play them all. Hopefully the Champions Trophy makes a comeback,” Batch told reporters during the ongoing World Cup in Bhubaneswar.

Recollecting how the format of the Champions Trophy evolved over the years, Batch said, “The Champions Trophy started with just a round-robin league where the team with the highest points emerged winners. It then added a final among the top two sides and that turned out to be very popular. The same format was brought back this year and we had a memorable tournament.”

The Champions Trophy lost favour among the FIH officials who thought that top hockey nations would not be interested in hosting a six-nation event over a whole week after the focus shifts to the home-and-away FIH Pro League. It is merely incidental that all those key decision-makers on the move to scrap the Champions Trophy from the roster have now left the FIH. They may be watching from the sidelines, amused at hockey shooting itself in the foot.

The FIH Pro League, featuring nine teams, shall corner a major chunk of the first six months of the hockey calendar from 2019. With a large number of home internationals guaranteed to the selected nations, the FIH Pro League has the bearing of being immensely successful. However, its success will hinge on the financial backing from sponsors, something that the FIH had failed to enlist in large numbers for the Hockey World League.

Over four years of its existence, the FIH’s inability to convert the Hockey World League into a huge financial success, led to fiscal problems for several host nations and also some competing teams.

In re-jigging the competition structure, the focus will shift to the FIH Pro League. Amidst all this, the Champions Trophy will be the biggest casualty.

The planned global Pro League will have its teething problems, not the least of which is that teams have been picked on basis of their financial commitments and not due to their world rankings. That is essentially because some countries featuring among the top nine nations may not have the financial backing to ensure success of this home-and-away international league. The financial support for hockey in some countries ensures that they made the selection grade for the handpicked nations. Hereafter, it will all depend upon the national hockey associations in the selected nations being able to sustain the interest of its players, not all of whom are full-time professional players. The FIH Pro League’s problems increased with India’s withdrawal of their initial application for the global Pro League. This led to the exit of the biggest contributor to the FIH kitty.

Even as hockey looks excitingly at this proposed international league, may the connoisseurs of the game be reminded that the Champions Trophy was the showpiece annual event until the birth of the Hockey World League rendered it into a biennial event after 2012. The 2018 Champions Trophy events were the third and final edition on the bi-annual roster.

Most established tournaments across the world have vanished or become irregular. The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, staged annually in the Malaysian city of Ipoh, is now the highest-rated annual event on the FIH roster.

Hockey, perhaps, needs some visionary to keep the Champions Trophy going. It could be the hockey’s insurance as it embarks on an uncertain journey.

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Updated Date: Dec 08, 2018 08:56:10 IST

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