FIH says India key to spreading hockey around the world

Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium has hosted several big-ticket hockey events in recent years. Debayan Sen

The participation of India in the second edition of the Pro League, which begins on January 18, will help the international hockey federation (FIH) break even with the yearly competition, according to FIH CEO Thierry Weil.

"We have to increase hockey around the world -- not only in India -- and that's why we want to have more events," Weil told members of the Indian media in a conference call from Lausanne on Tuesday.

"But if you want more development, you need to generate more revenue, and how can you generate more revenue without having a country like India [being] a part of it?

"It [Pro League] is a new tournament, and it requires financial investment, not only from FIH but from each national association. We have done our homework, and we know how we are going to plan out seasons two, three and four. The good thing is we will achieve a break-even in season two, and then seasons three and four will be about making positive (gains)."

Weil also said that the 2020 Pro League will not have a final, as the opening edition did, where Australia and Netherlands emerged victorious in the finals of the men's and women's editions of the tournament in Amstelveen. Teams will also be allowed to have a bigger squad size, and the format itself has been tweaked for the coming season -- in 2019, each nation played one game at home and one away against all other competitors. For 2020, Weil said, the travel fatigue and costs for the national associations will be cut in half, as teams will play two home games against four opponents each, before visiting four other teams for two matches apiece away.

India were recently announced as the hosts of the 2023 men's World Cup, with Bhubaneswar and Rourkela co-hosting, and this means three of the last four World Cups in the sport would have been hosted by India upon its conclusion. Weil, who was with FIFA before his FIH appointment in 2018, defended the decision to award the event to India, denying that it reflected poorly on the growth of the game.

"I come from a sport where whenever we organise a World Cup, we have been criticised for creating 'white elephants' -- big venues, which are not really being used," he said. "With the sustainability discussion that we have in the world now, I am extremely happy that we as a sport have decided to reuse a venue like Bhubaneswar.

"It is healthy if we have India competing and it helps to have India in our sport, with the size of the country, the population, and the number of hockey lovers."

Weil noted that that the inaugural Pro League had maximum viewership from India on digital platforms despite the team missing the tournament. He also said that there are multiple bids coming in for future events.

"We had some good bids, and we have had Malaysia in the bids too. This will now lead us into 2020, where we would like to discuss where the World Cup of 2026 [or early 2027] is going," he said. "From a commercial perspective, we need long-term planning, and we can start moving depending on how quickly we can talk of 2026 and 2027.

"From the view of our sport, we need to be humble and see what's viable for us."

Weil said that the next junior World Cup, which was last hosted and won by Harendra Singh's India in 2016, is scheduled for December 2021. Both the men's and women's events will have their host nations announced within the next month.