World League to replace qualifiers

 The International Hockey Federation (FIH) on Wednesday announced its ambitious World League, which it expects will take the sport across the globe and popularise the game.

Apart from attracting huge participation from around the world, including new entrants to the game, the World League will also serve as the new qualification standard for the Olympics as well as the World Cup, with the current Olympic Qualifiers system set to be scrapped after the London Games.

“We are very happy to announce that after the London Olympic Games, we will be kick-starting the World League that will go a long way in developing the sport,” said FIH president Leandro Negre.

“Eighty countries have signed up for the men’s competition while 58 have confirmed their participation in the women’s section. I am really thrilled to see such a huge turnout. In our continuous bid to resurrect hockey in India, which I’ve been stating since the World Cup here in 2010, we’ve decided to award the Grand Finals to this country.”

The World League will be held over a two-year cycle with the elimination rounds to he held across various countries. The top eight teams from the elimination rounds will then join the top eight teams from the FIH world rankings in the semifinal phase. The teams will be pitted in two groups with the top eight advancing to the finals, scheduled to be held in India in February 2014. A similar pattern will be followed in the women’s competition, the Grand Finals of which will be held in Argentina in December 2013.

The innovative tournament will act as the qualifying standard for the Olympics and World Cup. For the Olympics, the host nation and the five continental champions will secure automatic entry while the top 6-7 teams from the World League will fill the remaining slots. There was still no clarification on the qualifying scheme for the World Cup.

One of the biggest negatives of hockey is the absence of a Future Tours Programme as in cricket, with the fans hungry for regular top-notch competition. “It is something we are working on,” said the world body’s new CEO, Kelly Fairweather. “We are eyeing two-year cycles with one being dedicated to the Olympics and the other to the World Cup. During the intermittent period, we have the Champions series.

“Obviously, if teams travel to each other’s countries, it will boost the sport. Currently, we’ve yet to work on that. Our calendar is planned until 2015. Post that, we’ll encourage countries to incorporate the FTP.”

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