International hockey’s most ambitious event, the Hockey World League featuring national teams from across all five continents, will get under way two days after the curtains rung down on the Olympic Games.

The World League, a four-round event spread over two years, will feature more than 60 national men and women’s sides competing in one structured event with the top eight ranked nations coming into the picture one year after the tournament’s launch.

For teams like India, currently placed 10th in the international men’s rankings, it will be a second round entry into the competition which will now become the qualifying competition for the World Cup and Olympic Games.

As 12 qualifying slots are on offer for the 2014 World Cup, most nations will compete in the World League, which the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is confident will turn out to be the biggest thing in world hockey in decades.

New Delhi is among the 19 venues shortlisted by the FIH for the league. The FIH has been planning about an international league for more than one and a half decades, but this is the first step taken in this direction.

Although the FIH did not give any specific details about the financial structure or the commercial partners it had secured for such an ambitious project.

“I am proud to launch the Hockey World League,” FIH President Leandro Negre said last evening, using the backdrop of one of the grandest Olympic hockey events to introduce the new competition, which begins on Aug 14.

The first round of the World Hockey League will comprise 11 tournaments, with the landmark opening game being played in the Czech Republic between the women’s national teams of Scotland and Turkey.

“This has been a vision of the FIH’s for a long time and at last the day is here that we see it become a reality,” Negre said.

“It is truly an exciting time for hockey. Never before has an international hockey competition been open to such a wide range of teams and athletes.”

Among the 60 nations, which have confirmed participation in the League in the men or women’s event, for 19 countries it will be their first-ever appearance in an FIH competition.

The FIH believes 2,000 players will feature in the World League which will offer World Ranking points to participating nations.

This league’s arrival will result in the annual Champions Trophy now becoming a biennial tournament after this year’s event in Melbourne.

The Champions Trophy in December will be India’s next major competition after the debacle at the Olympics.

India has received a wildcard invitation for the eight-nation tournament, which was last year scheduled to be played in New Delhi, but was shifted by the FIH to New Zealand.

The World League, whose first edition will feature 350, matches and run from August 2012 to February 2014, will have each round acting as a qualifier for the next.

This will provide every team an opportunity to go all the way to the final. The league will give newcomers from the lower—ranked teams to compete with with top—ranked players in leading nations. FIH’s chief executive Kelly Fairweather said the World League will have a two-tiered approach.

“Not only does it give the FIH a clear qualification structure for the World Cup and Olympics, but it also provides a massive development opportunity for all areas of hockey,” he said.

The FIH does not have any title sponsor or presenting commercial partner specifically for the World League, but says discussions were on with several sponsors in different countries.

“No it is not an event before its time,” said Fairweather, adding that the FIh was close to signing up a sponsor in India.

“The FIH has its existing commercial partners and nations are ready to host World League matches,” he said.

(This article was published on August 11, 2012)
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