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FEATURE | HOCKEY

The Netherlands’ Lidewij Welten takes on South Korea’s Cheon Eun-bi at the Riverbank Arena at London 2012 as the Dutch head for Olympic gold

Australia’s Matthew Swann raises the Champions Trophy in Melbourne

Making hockey stick

wanted to put a qualification system in place for the World Cup and the Olympic Games and this is effectively that,” says Kelly Fairweather, the South African former International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive who since 2010 has been chief executive of the FIH. “The idea was all the countries of the world could participate, so it was accessible to everybody.” The World League has been devised to run in two-year cycles. The prize at the end of the inaugural edition is a place in the 2014 World Cup, which will be hosted by the Netherlands, while the next World League in 2014/15 will help decide the teams competing in the Rio 2016 Olympic hockey tournament. It is a significant change, complicated initially by the need to fit a new, multiround national team competition around existing FIH tournaments and commercial contracts. The first two World Leagues will by no means be the finished product, with Fairweather and the FIH currently working through the detail of a commercial overhaul for the 2015 to 2018 period. “We’re looking at a whole new strategy for the events cycle from 2015 to 2018,” confirms Sarah

Hockey took less than a week after the Olympics to launch its bold new attempt to raise and broaden the profile of the sport. By the time of the next World Cup in 2014, the International Hockey Federation hopes to have met the ambitious target of having fully integrated its new World League product into an equally fresh commercial structure and an already crowded international calendar. By David Cushnan

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nly soccer and athletics, one the world’s most popular sport and the other the standout event in any Olympic Games, sold more tickets than hockey at London 2012 – 630,000 in total when the final numbers were totted up. Raucous crowds from Britain and further afield – notably a colourful mob from the Netherlands, one of the world’s hockey strongholds – made the long walk each day to the far end of London’s Olympic Park and the Riverbank Arena, a temporary venue but one which provided a striking backdrop to the tournament thanks to the combination of lurid pink London 2012 décor and a revolutionary bright blue field.

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It was all a bit different, less than a week after London’s Olympic flame had been gently extinguished, when Prague staged the first of the first-round tournaments in a new national team competition which hockey’s governing body hopes will lend a greater structure to the international game in between its major events. Like many sports on the Olympic programme, hockey benefits from an injection of interest every four years but has traditionally struggled to maintain the momentum when the Games are over. World Cup tournaments, slotted neatly in the middle of Olympic cycles, provide another focal point, as does the wellestablished annual Champions Trophy,

but the lack of a straightforward hierarchy of events or narrative in between its showpiece occasions has stifled the sport’s development for some time. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) believes its new World League might be the solution. August’s inaugural tournament, which featured the likes of the Czech Republic, Belarus, Poland and Ukraine, was the first, low-key instalment in a two-year competition, with an admittedly complex format, which will ultimately determine the qualifiers for the next hockey World Cup in both the men’s and women’s game. “Before I even arrived at the FIH, the current president Leandro Negre

Pakistan v India at the Champions Trophy: one of hockey’s great rivalries

Massey, the FIH’s head of events and strategic planning, “so that’s commercial strategy, event strategy, marketing, everything we’re doing. The first cycle of World League still falls into some of the incumbent deals, incumbent sponsors.” Changing the sport’s commercial model will extend beyond the World League, too. Rabobank, for example, acquired the title sponsorship rights for the 2014 World Cup in the Netherlands – the men’s and women’s tournaments will both be staged in The Hague at the same time – as part of a wider deal with the Dutch local organising committee (LOC). The FIH intends to bring those rights in-house by the time the next World Cups are staged in 2018. “We have the current situation where we have an LOC in Holland who run it,” Fairweather says of the 2014 tournament, “and we basically have given them the majority of the rights. For 2018 we’ll have a completely different model and we will look to retain the majority of those and exploit those.” The KNHB – the Dutch hockey federation, which is preparing for the major public launch of its plans for the World Cup – has an agreement with

the FIH entitling it to 70 per cent of the tournament’s sponsorship rights. The FIH keeps the remainder as well as the international media rights, with the KNHB allowed to sell media rights in the Netherlands. Johan Wakkie, the KNHB’s managing director, confirms that the federation has paid the FIH a fee for the rights, arguing that “we think we have more to offer our sponsors internationally than the FIH has for itself”, a belief which appears to jar somewhat with the FIH’s plan for further centralisation of sponsorship and media rights. “We advised them [the FIH] to keep part of their sponsor rights but help the other countries to have rights in their own region, so they have more possibility to organise a tournament and to have some income,” Wakkie continues. “I can imagine that every year of the four years after [the 2014 World Cup] they make a new plan with every country and what you try to achieve is the sponsors of the country having some advertising rights, otherwise it’s not interesting for a country to participate.” Playing the sport’s biggest event in a mature hockey market such as the Netherlands is essential as far as

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FEATURE | HOCKEY

The World League format

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he World League has a complex format, a necessity given the desire to allow any nation to enter any edition. Both the men’s and women’s World League are made up of four rounds over a two-year period. The 2012/2013 cycle will determine the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, while the 2014/2015 cycle will decide the qualifiers for the next Olympic hockey competition at Rio 2016. • Round one: Split by region, rather than continent, countries are grouped together. The number of tournaments and qualifying teams is determined by the number of federations who enter teams. The world’s top 16 ranked teams are given a bye. The tournaments are played between December and February, or during June and July. • Round two: Also regionally focused, round two comprises four tournaments of six teams each. Round one qualifiers play the teams ranked from nine to 16 in the world. Teams ranked one to eight are given a bye. Events are staged between August and September, or during December and January. • Semi-finals: Two events of eight teams each, featuring the qualifiers from round two plus the world’s top eight teams. Each tournament will be made up of two pools of four teams. The top six nations in this round will join the host nation and the five continental champions as qualifiers for either the World Cup or Olympics. The tournaments will be staged in February and/or June. • Finals: A single eight-team event with the same format as the semifinal round, held from September onwards after the existing continental championships, which will be staged in the gap after round three.

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Fairweather is concerned. Not for him a switch to an emerging, cash-rich market, especially with an Olympic Games in Brazil, a nation not renowned for its hockey prowess, on the horizon. “That’s not on our radar, really,” he says. “We want to see full stadia, people enjoying the event. We’re organising, for example, a round one in Qatar, but that’s not commercially driven, that’s to try and expose the sport in that area.” Fairweather admits the FIH is “trying to help Brazil make their way up the ladder” before Rio 2016, a tournament he believes will be challenging for hockey “but also a massive opportunity”. Indeed, the World League has been devised partly to help developing hockey nations like Brazil improve. As Wakkie sums up: “What is new and good is that every country has a chance to participate and to get to a higher level than they are currently at – if you start in the first round, it’s possible a year later you could be in the third or fourth round. That’s good for the sport.” While the early stages of the World League will be almost entirely run by the hosts – “there’s not a huge commercial value, but in the local territories they can get some local help, sponsors, funding from local sources,” says Massey – Fairweather says the FIH will use the success or otherwise of the first edition to inform its decisions about a new model. “The first cycle is what it is, but we’re looking at the future and saying, ‘Is there room for a title [sponsor] for the World League as a whole?’ We’re not sure about that because hockey tends to be like quite a lot of other sports: sponsors tend to be interested in one or two or three markets and maybe the World League as a whole doesn’t grab them. We still need to do more work on that to find what the optimum model for us is.” Massey says the ultimate aim is “much more certainty” in FIH-sanctioned tournaments. “We’re trying to build value in what we’re selling and market the products,” he explains. “We’re going to be in a better position to do that in 20152018 when we know what the events are going to include, when they have all got a different identity, when they all make sense in the calendar.” Accommodating the year-round

World League competition and the biennial Champions Trophy, which has become one of international hockey’s most significant tournaments since it was founded in Pakistan in the late 1970s, into an international calendar will not be without its difficulties either. Wakkie suggests that “it’s too much for us now – some years we have too many tournaments and too few weeks to play our [domestic] competitions”. Fairweather admits the FIH is “still brainstorming that a little bit”, adding: “The Champions Trophy is a very well-established, traditional event so we’re wary about just throwing that away. We have to find the right balance between continuity across the cycle but also things that make sense and add value to the programme.” Current, although yet to be confirmed, FIH projections suggest an equal split between revenue and sponsorship in the next cycle when the FIH has further centralised its rights. More generally, Fairweather believes the discussions at the FIH are indicative of changing times for Olympic sport federations. “What I’ve seen over the last four or five years is federations have realised you can’t rely on 20 to 30 per cent increases in Olympic revenue anymore,” he says. “You’ve actually got to maximise your own properties now, which is what we’re trying to do. We need to take responsibility for our own properties and start running them in a way that we’ll be proud of them and that will give our athletes in particular the right exposure, which is what they deserve.” The end of the first World League at the end of 2013, or early in 2014, has been identified as a key marker in the commercial schedule. Fairweather wants all FIH-sanctioned events for 2015 to 2018 bedded down, the two hosts selected for the 2018 World Cups and all media and marketing rights for the cycle sold by that point. “The FIH is only small; it only has 17 people,” he says, “but I always say, ‘We’re never going to be football, but we can punch above our weight and be a good middleweight, the best in our class.’ That’s what we’re trying to do but after two years I’ve realised that we’ve only just set the foundations; it’s going to take us another two years of consolidation before we start seeing the impact.”

The other 2014 World Cup

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reated in 1971, the men’s hockey World Cup was initially played on a biennial basis before becoming a quadrennial event in 1990. The last tournament was played in Delhi two years ago and the next edition is scheduled for The Hague, the capital of the Netherlands, one of the world’s leading hockey nations. The event will run from 15th May to 15th June and run simultaneously with the women’s World Cup, a tournament first staged in 1974. “For us it was very important to have both World Cups,” says Johan Wakkie, managing director of the Dutch hockey federation (KNHB), which is organising the event, “because every day we will have a Dutch team playing – so every day we have the possibility to have a sold-out stadium. If you just have one, the men or the women, normally you have one day a full stadium and the next day not a full stadium – that’s what you see in all the countries. In our country, if our team – men or women – is not playing less people will come to the stadium. That’s hockey. We said, ‘If you want to have a successful tournament like 1998 then give us a national team every day and we can make a plan to build it up around that.’” The tournament will boast many of the same corporate partners as when the KNHB hosted 14 years ago, notably title sponsor Rabobank whose World Cup deal is bound up in a wider relationship

KNHB managing director Johan Wakkie

with the federation. “When we started the bid procedure they decided with us to renew their contract until 2016, including the World Cup,” Wakkie explains. “We have a tournament every year in Holland, either the World Cup, which is very special, or the Champions Trophy, World League or European Championship. Our sponsors know we bring a special tournament every year and the World Cup is a special tournament, more than normal.” Wakkie explains that as well as corporate support, the tournament will receive funding through local and national government investment,

including €1.5 million from the latter, and ticket sales, with the KNHB hoping to tap into its 250,000-strong membership. Further details of the event, including detail on its ticketing strategy and cultural programme, were due to be revealed in January. Wakkie does reveal, however, that the World Cup will make a loss in one key area. “We have only the television rights in Holland and the FIH has the international rights, so they have the income. We have to pay for the production and that’s a lot of money, so we have a loss on television production and rights but we have the income of sponsorship.”

From the IOC to the FIH: Kelly Fairweather’s transfer of knowledge

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efore he joined the FIH in 2010 Kelly Fairweather had been out of hockey for 12 years. The sport remained, however, very much in his blood, even during his successful stint at the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “It’s my sport,” he says simply. “I grew up playing hockey – it was in my family’s blood. My dad played at provincial level, my uncle played at international level.”

Fairweather himself represented South Africa at junior national level and went on to coach the women’s national team. Following a stint as the South African Hockey Association’s director of high performance Fairweather joined the IOC, where he worked on the Olympic host city knowledge transfer programme. He replaced Gilbert Felli as sports director in August 2003, taking responsibility for developing and maintaining the IOC’s relationships

with international sports federations. In 2010, he was appointed chief executive of the FIH. “I had been out of the sport for 12 years,” he says, “Coming from the position at the IOC, working in that environment I was very sport-oriented and this was an opportunity for me to broaden my horizons as an individual, getting involved in the development and marketing of a sport. This was an opportunity for me.”

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Making hockey stick