Hockey India has decided not to field the Indian men and women hockey teams at the International Hockey Federation's Pro League event. The decision could hurt India's chances of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics as the top four teams of the tournament will get a direct entry in the 2020 Olympics.
Pro Hockey League is International Hockey Federation's most recently introduced competition where the top nine ranked men and women's team will compete with each other on a home-and-away basis during weekends of six consecutive months from January to June. The tournament is set to kick off in January 2019 and FIH CEO Jason McCracken had quoted India to be one of the ‘strong supporter’ of the tournament.
However, India decided to withdraw from the tournament citing the low rank of women's team as the reason.
“There will be 12 teams at the Olympics. Top four from the Pro League will qualify directly for the Tokyo Games. Six other teams from the World League will also make the cut while the remaining two spots will go to the next highest-ranked teams,” the source told Indian Express.
“Since India is ranked 13th in the world, the chances of them qualifying for the Olympics via the Pro League were relatively less.”
The HI official added that competing in the tournament won't help the Indian women's team prospects of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics and the team would benefit more from competing in the World Hockey League. The official also revealed that there was no option for withdrawing just the women's team from the competition and hence the men's team had to pull out as well.
“The ranking points system was finalised only after the teams were registered. It wasn’t beneficial to the women’s team. That is the reason Hockey India decided to pull out after confirming earlier. If Hockey India would have withdrawn the teams after July 17, then we would have been slapped with a two-year international ban," said the source.
Meanwhile, FIH confirmed HI's decision of withdrawing from the tournament while informing that the process for finding the replacement team has already begun.
"The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has received confirmation from Hockey India that they have withdrawn from the Hockey Pro League. Whilst we regret Hockey India’s decision not to be involved in this exciting new global League, we have replacement teams available following an application process which was oversubscribed. Our Event Portfolio Implementation Panel will convene a meeting to discuss the practical implications of a team withdrawal including formally inviting replacement teams to participate in the men’s and women’s League. The first Hockey Pro League Workshop with all participating nations invited is being held in Lausanne, Switzerland later this month."
The withdrawal from the tournament could have massive repercussions on team India's rankings as the men and women in blue will not be able to compete with the best in the world for six months and will have to play against the lesser ranked teams. HI's decision comes days after the Indian Hockey board filed a complaint with FIH regarding an alleged try to fix the India-Pakistan clash in the Hockey World League Semifinals last month. HI was also unhappy with FIH not ensuring players' protection while visiting foreign countries on international duty after Sardar Singh was called midway through the tournament for an interrogation by the Leeds police.
However, the source clarified that the recent decision had nothing to do with the complaint.