February 26, 2017 5:21:18 am
With experience of more than two decades as a hockey umpire, referee and technical official, New Zealand’s Jason McCracken took over the charge of the Chief Executive Officer of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) earlier this month. McCracken, who has also officiated in the World Cup and Olympics and was a technical director in Rio Olympics for male hockey, is in Chandigarh for the FIH Hockey Stars Awards and the Hockey India League finals. The New Zealand hockey official spoke with Chandigarh Newsline about FIH plans for hockey, new home and away league concept, and the importance of Indian hockey.
Coming as the CEO after spending more than two decades in hockey umpiring and tournaments, how do you see this phase and FIH plans for the new home and away League?
I think that was a very successful hockey phase for us but I must say that we are going to do some new, exciting things. In 2019, we are going to introduce our new home and away hockey league and we are going to increase the amount of hockey on television by ten times. The new format will be the league all around the world. The top eight-nine teams will play one match in their country and then play one match away against the same country and it will happen for 2-3 months at the start of the year. We will be having hockey for a much longer duration. We already have 18 teams in the second stage of selection and the final teams will be announced in June later this year.
Will the new league have the same stakes as the world league and other continental championships, and will it be a criteria for spots in the Olympics too?
The top four teams will play the final of the new league. We were determined to have top players play in the away countries too, and this also gives a chance for the teams to look forward to playing against the top teams every year for a duration of 2-3 months. This will also form the part of the qualification process for the Olympics spots. The continental winners will get the entry to the Olympics, and this league will also have one or two spots for the qualification. I was also disappointed when South Africa was denied the opportunity to be at Rio, despite being the African continental champions. We will also talk with Hockey India about shifting HIL by some days as we want the home and away league to happen at the start of the year.
While Rio Olympics had a record viewership for hockey events, how is FIH thinking ahead as part of the ten-year evolution strategy and how do you see the coming phase till the next Olympics?
We are trying to grow the game. We are trying to increase the amount of exposure that hockey gets. I guess in India, hockey gets good exposure but that’s not the case in other countries. Importantly, it is about youngsters seeing big stars. We are willing to try things to get more exposure. The Champions Trophy had its history and I was also a part of the last edition of the Champions trophy. But that was not in the ten-year hockey revolution strategy which we decided earlier. But then we now have tournaments like Hockey World league has seen hockey events being held in South Asia. India, too, holds an important part in hockey’s history and will also continue to be an important part in the future. The Indian hockey team has been performing well at the world stage and HIL is also promoting the game.
FIH also made changes in rules at the international level during the last one decade. Do we see more rule changes in the future, too?
The rules were changed to make the game faster and more exciting and to score more goals. Those were the things that we tried to do. I think historically the game was more about stop and start. So we introduced things like the self pass, the overhead pass and things like playing the ball in the air to make the game more. And we saw more goals being scored. If we look at the hockey league, we are getting scores like 5-0 or 5-2. Traditionally, hockey games were seeing more scores of 1-0 or 2-1. Rules were changed and it was part of the evolution which FIH wanted to do. We are not going to change rules more. We are seeing more goals. I think we are trying to change the exposure. At the moment, if you are a hockey fan you love it. What we are trying to do it to make it go and watch it every day. The change to Blue in London was good for the game and people adapted to the change.
Teams like Argentina and Belgium reached the final in Rio and the game had a new Olympics champion. How do you see the development for the game?
I think it is interesting. I was the tournament director in Rio. What I noticed was some of the top teams becoming more athletic and physically very good. Fitness is becoming one of the main things in modern hockey. Because hockey is becoming more demanding and needs more fitness. So my observation was that the top two fittest teams were in the final at Rio. Argentina played very aggressive hockey. In the old days, say five or ten years ago when the Europeans dominated, teams like Germany or Netherlands they played more of traditional and holding the ball. These days teams are playing attacking hockey and trying to score goals and take the ball forward.
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