FIH Series Finals | India’s path to qualify for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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FIH Series Finals | India’s path to qualify for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The Indian hockey team is all set for the eight-nation FIH Series Finals which will be the initial phase of the Olympic qualifications for the team. Just before the start of the tournament on June 6, let’s take a look at how can the Indian men’s hockey team make it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

India has a rich and long history as far as hockey is concerned at the Olympic Games. Starting from the year 1928, the Indian men’s hockey team has secured eight gold medals in total at the sporting extravaganza while on one occasion they had won a silver and have also got a couple of bronze medals in their kitty. However, they had finished 12th and eighth in London and Rio Olympics respectively and had even failed to qualify for the 2008 games in Beijing. The Manpreet Singh-led side that bowed out of the quarter-finals of the World Cup last year will now aim to make it to the Olympics and put up a good show in Japan’s Tokyo next year.

Failing to go past Malaysia in the semi-finals of the Asian Games in Jakarta last year ensured that India couldn’t get a direct entry into the upcoming Olympics. India had finished third at the Asiad and only the gold-medallists of the continental events are allowed direct entry into the Olympics. Now, the Indian side will have to go through a complex process to ensure that they feature in the Olympics next year and the FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar will be the first step in that direction.

The 2020 Olympics will feature 12 teams in men’s hockey and Japan have already booked a place as the host nation as well as they were the gold medallists of the Asian Games. Four other teams will be decided from the continental tournaments – 2019 Pan American Games, 2019 African Olympic Qualifier, 2019 EuroHockey Championship, and 2019 Oceania Cup. This means that there will be five teams including Japan who will secure direct entry into the Olympics and seven more participants will be decided after the 2019 FIH Olympic Qualifiers which will be held later this year. 

There will be a total of 14 teams in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers out of which seven will make it to the next year’s Olympics. These 14 teams will be decided from the FIH Pro League, FIH Series Finals and the FIH rankings of the countries after the end of the continental events. Four top-placed teams from the FIH Pro League will make it to the Olympic Qualifiers while the three FIH Series Finals in Kuala Lumpur, Bhubaneswar and Le Touquet will determine another six teams i.e the top two teams from each of the three FIH Series Finals. 

While the rest four teams for the Olympic qualification event will come from the FIH Rankings after the end of the continental events. As per the FIH website, “The remaining spots will go to the best-ranked nations not already qualified in the FIH World Rankings (as at the end of the 2018 / 2019 round of Continental Championships) not having qualified through either of the above events or as Continental Champions.”

 © Hockey India

So, now for India to reach the FIH Olympic Qualifiers, the best way is to finish in the top two of the upcoming FIH Series Finals. India are playing the tournament only because the Hockey India had opted out of the FIH Pro League 2019. Now, if India qualify for the final which will be played on June 15, then they will go directly into the qualifying event which will be played later this year. 

With all the teams ranked way below India in the tournament, India is most likely to make it to the finals. India will meet Russia (rank 22), Poland (21) and Uzbekistan (43) in the Group A games of the tournament and will almost finish as the table toppers. In Group B, there are South Africa (16) and Asian Games winner Japan (18) as the top two teams alongside Mexico (39) and the United States of America (25).  

However, if India doesn’t live up to the expectations and a major upset takes place in the tournament, they will still have a chance to make an entry into the Olympic Qualifiers as one of the four teams who will go into the next qualifying event by virtue of their FIH rankings.

In the FIH Olympic Qualifiers later this year (most likely in October-November), the 14 teams will be drawn on the basis of the rankings with the top-ranked team taking on the team at the other end of the table and so on. There will be two matches against the teams and the aggregate winners will make it to the sporting extravaganza. The FIH qualifying events will be played at the venue of the teams which are ranked higher on the table. 

“The seven FIH Olympic qualifiers will each feature two nations playing two back-to-back matches, with nations drawn to play each other based on their rankings at the end of the 2018 / 2019 Continental Championships,” a statement from the FIH read.

“The nation with the highest aggregate score over the two matches will qualify for the Olympics. If at the end of the two matches both teams have same aggregate score, the winner will be decided by a shoot-out competition held immediately after the second match.”

This becomes simple for India that they would want to finish as the top team at the FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar and get a better draw in the last qualifying event later this year rather than getting entry through the rankings which will give them a tougher draw. 

The scenario for Olympics qualifications will be similar for the Indian women’s team as well and they will play the FIH Women’s Series Finals in Japan’s Hiroshima in June with an aim of qualifying for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers to be played later this year as they were not a part of the FIH Pro League. The Rani Rampal-led team will be up against Poland, Chile, Russia and hosts Japan in the women’s series which will be played from June 15.

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