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November 9, 1999


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Hockey hopes for a hoist

Cedric D'Souza

The International Hockey Federation at its 75th anniversary celebrations in Alexandria, Egypt, from October 25 to 29, discussed several important topics, prominent among which were:
1. Presentation of the FIH's strategy paper - Hockey Vision 2000 and Beyond)
2. The player of the year award.
3. Two international exhibition matches, to be played under experimental rules which are under consideration for application after the Sydney Olympic Games
4. Hosting of the Asia Cup and the teams for the next Champions Trophy, in The Netherlands next year.

As each of these topics are vital to the future of the game, I will take them on not as an entirety but in stages. In this article I will dwell on the first topic - the presentation of the FIH strategy paper - Hockey Vision 2000 and Beyond.

The FIH, in keeping with the times, had sometime back anticipated the problems stemming within the sport -- be it the threat perception of other sports running away with sponsorship or the inability to capitalise on opportunities. They decided to do something about it and initiated talks across the globe, thus receiving new ideas on the strengths and weaknesses of hockey. Remember, the key issue was, and is, to re-create the involvement of the masses, and thereby fill up stadiums and popularise the sport.

Thus, Hockey Vision 2000 and Beyond. It is a strategic plan aimed at:
1. Forming the basic framework for the future development of hockey
2. Ensuring the incorporation of all major aspects and sophisticated levels of the sport and its administration
Use of technology.

The culmination of this plan will certainly improve the profile of the game as well as accomplish globalisation. And, although the task will not be easy, the FIH seems quite confident that they will beat the odds and be among the top administrative units within the Olympic family.

In short, the FIH's aim is to market the game in a proper manner, and thereby increase viewer interest and numbers, as well as rope in the big bucks to further enhance the game.

When one compares hockey to cricket, soccer, golf and tennis, it can be safely said that the sport lags far behind in terms of professionalism in administration and marketing. The proof of this is depicted in the disparity in financial sponsorship. Thus, in a nutshell, the only way to rake in the bucks is to make hockey a television sport.

The strategy paper also has other features like:
The institution of special awards for media personnel whose contribution has had an impact to the fortunes of the game, as well as recognising the value of coaches by nominating the best coach every year. Both these suggestions have been submitted to the executive board for ratification.

Making of quality coaching manuals in terms of books, periodicals, videotapes, CD-ROM's etc. readily available to all member federations over the world. This certainly will go a long way in teaching and popularising the game.

Increasing the number of Olympic solidarity courses and master coaches. This will mean that international experts will travel around the globe and conduct clinics and workshops.

Added to that, hockey will soon see radical changes to the rules as well as structure, in order to make the game more spectator-friendly. In my opinion, it is artistry and skill, coupled with a large number of goals scored, that will get viewers totally enthused. But to bring about this transformation, skill will have to replace power.

I for one would like to take a calculated guess as to what is in the offing. Here's it:
Replacing power with skill: During the execution of the penalty-corner, the direct strike at the boards via a hit or a drag flick will soon be a thing of the past. In its place will come the penalty-corner that will advocate open field play. This will occur when the ball is halted 5 yards outside the circle along the dotted line, thereby making the penalty-corner null and void and resuming normal open play. Skill in beating an onrushing defender will be the issue and not power.

Besides, those teams with an abundance of skill will be in a position of strength as they outnumber the onrushing defenders.

Skill used in a one versus one situation from the 25 yard line: Goalkeeper versus attacker. A variation to this could be a one versus one, where the player carries the ball from the 50 within a time limit.

Eradicating dangerous play: Instead of the firing of the ball into the circle from a long corner or a free hit just outside the circle, only the push may be allowed into the circle. This will be done to ensure safety.

Added thrust and attack, open spaces and playing to the whistle: By curtailing playing time - there could be four sessions of 15/20 minutes each.

Decreasing the number of players: Maybe to a 9-a-side, thereby increasing gaps and freedom of space.

Increasing the size of the goals: This would result in more goals scored.

Continuing with the experimental foot rule, though some teams feel it is a controversial rule: Here play continues if foot infringement is not deliberate. The less the whistle, the more open the play and less complicated for the spectators.

Globalization: Like the World Series Tournament -Setting-up a tier system for tournaments within the respective zones and these zones playing with each other - with automatic promotion/demotion to the next/ previous group. This will definitely help in bringing all hockey-playing nations closer.

Thus, the FIH is making an attempt to popularising the sport, make it viewer friendly and increase interest in places where hockey has not yet taken off by conducting international events there.

In conclusion, the jubilee celebrations were a tremendous success and full credit must go to the FIH officials and the Egyptian Hockey federation for the manner in which these festivities were conducted. Hopefully, with God's grace and a lot of hard work, the plans laid down by the FIH will surely rejuvenate the game and bring our sport on par with the heights that soccer, cricket and tennis have achieved.

Cedric D'Souza

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