Truly a world league
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During the recent IOC Executive Board vote that saw wrestling falling out of favour for the 2020 Olympics, the two disciplines that survived the final elimination round — modern pentathlon and field hockey — have both constantly reinvented themselves. Much has been written about modern pentathlon, but hockey too has undergone many changes in recent times — from rules to aesthetics — to expand its reach and stay relevant.
The latest example of this modernisation drive is the FIH World League, the second round of which begins in New Delhi on Monday.
The World League is a 54-team event for — 45 for women — played over four rounds and a cycle of two years. The first cycle, which started in August 2012 and will continue till February 2014, will serve as a qualification procedure for the World Cup to be played Holland in June 2014.
Post the World Cup, the cycle will be repeated for the Olympics.
It's a vertical integration of many hockey qualifiers which, in theory, makes the calendar much less cluttered.
But more importantly, the new format gives the teams at the bottom of the heap, if nothing else, a fair chance. As India coach Michael Nobbs put it: "It's like the FA Cup in football, where teams outside the top division compete against the best sides."
In hockey, under the previous qualification rules which favoured higher-ranked teams, a side like Fiji, which is placed 70th in the world (fourth from the bottom), had no chance of fighting for a place in the World Cup. However, here they are facing India in the opening match of Round 2, having topped their pool in Round 1 of the competition last year.
An upset of the kind that the non-league Luton Town pulled off again Premier League side Norwich in the FA Cup last month might be unlikely, but the new format has given Fiji a reason to hope, and India or Ireland none to be complacent.
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