In 2013, after this sport narrowly escaped Olympic-sized buckles, the desperate International Hockey Federation (FIH) immediately turned to India for help – and for help.
Eight years later, they are both smiling – for India, the performances of the men’s and women’s national teams at the Tokyo Olympics could be a springboard for future success; for the FIH it could potentially be a financial milestone, or so they hope. And hockey, which was nearly knocked out of the Tokyo Olympics, may have secured its place at the upcoming Games.
“Much more attention is being paid to hockey in India now. And that’s good for international hockey, good for the FIH, “said Thierry Weil, executive director of the world body.
Back in 2013, the mood in India and the world was not so optimistic. In February of that year, six months after the London Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reviewed all 26 sports in its then program based on 39 criteria including popularity, TV ratings and ticket sales. The purpose of the exercise was to kick out the sports that were the worst at these points from the Tokyo Olympics. Hockey almost survived that test.
In an instant, Leandro Negre, a Spanish hockey Olympian who was president of the FIH at the time, looked at India. “India is very important for keeping world hockey alive,” Negre said a day after the 2013 IOC vote.
But Indian hockey itself was dormant and slipped into oblivion during that period – the team finished 12th out of 12 teams in London, and was ranked so low that it could not pass for some international competitions.
The FIH without money and India struggling got into what was considered a marriage of convenience. Smelling the commercial potential, FIH has taken a step that is rare in any international sport: it organizes one big tournament in one country every year. Not only that, the rules have been changed in some cases to allow India to adapt to important international tournaments.
This way India got a chance to play with the world’s best teams every year, something they craved. The team progressed from year to year, winning the 2016 World Junior Championships, and some of the players from that team became the heroes of the team that won bronze in Tokyo.
In the meeting room
As India’s performance improved, so did its impact on the administrative and commercial side. Today, half of the FIH sponsors are Indian companies, and the president is also from India – Narinder Batra. But despite the fact that the Indian national hockey team has progressed rapidly, it has been difficult for the world organization to increase its revenue. In January this year, it was announced that the FIH made a loss of $ 715,000 in 2019.
Weil hopes the performances of Indian teams will help them “sign one or two commercial contracts”.
“(With) increasing the attractiveness of hockey in India, I’m sure we’ll have more talks with companies about sponsorship,” says Weil, former FIFA marketing director.
“The performance of the Indian team (in Tokyo) means that more people will play, which is going well for us. And a lot of viewership on TV … in Germany it was the biggest for hockey games, which we are not used to. This shows the potential of hockey and we can attract more international brands, ”adds Weil.
TV ratings will become crucial when the Tokyo Olympics review is held as all events were held without viewers due to Covid-19 protocols. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, hockey filled the stands with difficulty, and most of the games were played in half-empty stadiums. But in Tokyo, hockey seems to have gathered a good audience.
In Belgium, the gold medal match between the future champions and Australia was watched by 266,000 people, the second since Nafissatou Thiam’s heptathlon gold medalist event on August 5, which, according to Hockey Belgium, had 287,000 spectators. In Germany, Weil says local media reported that the match between them and the Netherlands had the most viewers on TV in all sports involving athletes from the country.
“TV ratings would also be high in India, of course. I am sure that our rating is much better than the previous Olympic Games. We may be able to make comparisons (with previous releases) at the end of the year, ”says Weil.
In Europe, more eyeballs have not directly led to higher revenue generation, meaning the FIH is constantly returning to India with its big-ticket events. India has hosted two of the last three men’s World Cups and will once again host the 2023 FIH flagship tournament. Belgium, world and Olympic champions, have also offered to host the 2023 World Cup, but India is reported to have promised the FIH 3.5 million Swiss francs as a ‘guaranteed profit’ from the event, 1.5 million more than Belgium.
Weil says they want to be ‘careful’ not to come to India with ‘everything’ and ‘people don’t care anymore’. Instead, he says the FIH now hopes to raise the standard of teams like ‘South Korea, Japan, South Africa and others’ through its new tournament, the Nations Cup.
“In the last few years, there have been too many monopolies in high (ranked) teams. It will be good for hockey if we start mixing it up and get teams like Japan, South Africa, South Korea and others to compete for podium places at the Olympics like India has, ”says Weil.
At least Weil won’t have to fight more fires. There was growing speculation that the FIH and the IOC wanted to make the top five hockey an Olympic sport. But with a bronze medal and fourth place, we hope the IOC, which is seen trying to woo the giant Indian market, will keep the 11-a-side format intact, given the current level of interest in the country.
“This has increased the popularity of hockey. I think the FIH is really happy about what happened, because I don’t think we have to worry about our Olympic status in the coming years, “said former Indian women’s national team coach Sjoerd Marijne in Indian Express Exchange of ideas last month.
It’s almost as if the sport has made a full circle since 2013. And Weil also doesn’t detract from the importance of Indian performance in relation to the health of world hockey. “If it’s good for India, it’s good for the FIH.”