ith less than a month for the start of the inaugural World Series Hockey, here are some points for introspection and reflection.
In the grand scheme of things, India's national hockey team qualifying for the Olympics is far more important than say a filmstar-owned team defeating an industrialist-owned team to win the World Series Hockey. Would it have killed the organisers to schedule World Series Hockey immediately after the February 2012 qualifiers?
India's coach Michael Nobbs said, "For a team to perform, you need all the players playing under the same style, and at the same venue. During the World Series Hockey, players will be playing under different coaches in different cities for nearly four weeks. Nearly 40 days of continuous hockey just ahead of the qualifiers would burn out the players. They are bound to change their style a bit; this will undo all the hard work done over the past few months to perfect a system."
India's goalkeeper Bharat Chhetri said, "This is an important year for us. We need to qualify for the Olympics. With World Series Hockey, no training is possible for 45 days, and it will take its toll on the players. Our fitness will definitely go down and we might lose out on the combination between the players as well."
Indian captain Rajpal Singh said, "The Olympic qualifiers are the most important thing for India at the moment. We are all gearing up to put our best effort, but with World Series Hockey taking place in December-January, it would be a big distraction for the players. Of course, practice would be hampered."
India drag flicker Divakar Ram said, "It's better to postpone World Series Hockey for a couple of months and organise it after the Olympic Qualifiers. Definitely the timing is not right. The Olympic is a huge event, which comes only once in 4 years. We failed to qualify last time, so this time we have to ensure that we get into the main event."
Would Dhanraj Pillai, who is 43 years of age, have a place in the present Indian national team? Would Viren Rasquinha, who retired from hockey 3 years ago, have a place in the present Indian national team? Would Brent Livermore, who last played for Australia in 2007, have a place in the present Australian national team?
The answer to all of the above is no. Though the above players are loved and respected by hockey fans, they are past their prime. The fact that they are playing in World Series Hockey gives the impression that this is a mix-and-match league of all types of players, some current, some over-the-hill and some veterans.
Lack of Talent
The top 5 men's hockey countries in the world, per the FIH rankings of November 1, 2011, are 1 - Australia, 2 - Germany, 3 - Netherlands, 4 - Spain and 5 - England. How many current national players from the top 5 countries in the world are playing in World Series Hockey? How many current national coaches from the top 5 countries in the world are participating in World Series Hockey?
World nos. 1 Australia is so dominant in hockey that in a 3-Nation tournament in 2011, Australia whipped India by 8 goals, and then inflicted the same punishment on Pakistan. Australia has 3 sets of teams that are good enough to be ranked in the top 5 in the world.
Where is the talent in World Series Hockey if the best hockey coach on this planet (Ric Charlesworth of Australia) and his pool of 33 national players (3 players per position) are not participating in the league?
The upcoming Champions Trophy in New Zealand will have more talent on display than World Series Hockey. On any given day, even the Euro Hockey League will have more talent on display than World Series Hockey.
The Bangladesh Analogy
In cricket, Bangladesh is 10th in world rankings. In hockey, India is 10th in world rankings.
Will a Bangladesh-based IPL, with a majority of players from Bangladesh, succeed in attracting cricket fans from around the world? If the answer is no, how will an India-based IPL-type hockey league attract global or even national hockey interest, if the majority of players from India, a country that has won absolutely no world-level tournament in the last 3 DECADES.
Nothing Official About It - FIH
FIH President Negre said, "I have very high reservations about players taking part in World Series Hockey. We have sanctioned and unsanctioned events. World Series Hockey is an event that is not sanctioned by us, and hence any player participating in it will be banned from international tournaments. As far as we are concerned, the Indian players participating in the event will not be allowed to take part in the Olympic qualifiers."
Nothing Official About It - Sports Authority of India
In a letter to Sports Ministry, Sports Authority of India Project Officer (TEAMS) stated, "After going through the opinions of Michael Nobbs, national coach, and David Jones, exercise physiologist, it is found that all the national hockey players attending the coaching camp under OPEX 2012 (Operation Olympics) have to practice and play together over the next two months for the purpose of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, rather than playing in the World Series Hockey Tournament, where only the veteran class players will be participating. Accordingly, it is proposed that in order to concentrate on the preparation for the Olympic qualifiers as well as Olympics 2012, we may not send the players who are undergoing coaching camp under OPEX 2012 for playing in World Series Hockey."
World Series Hockey is a closed league with a cartel structure. One single entitity, Nimbus, has created the league, selected the franchise owners, and selected the player pool. Purely for marketing purposes, the team have co-opted names of cities, even though the players and coaches have nothing to do with the city. It is possible for a team to change owners, and possibly cities.
This is essentially a monopoloy, for no new teams can join such a league purely on the basis of sporting talent. League expansion is dictated not by the excellence of a new team, but the potential of a new market and the franchise fees that owners are prepared to shell out.
The league is about money, media, glamour and hockey, in that order. It is no wonder that the all-important Olympic Qualifier is not a factor at all for World Series Hockey. In the club vs. country debate, country always comes second for closed sporting leagues.