Ric Charlesworth

The Hockey Paper - - NEWS - Ric Charlesworth

The Aus­tralian leg­end pens his exclusive new col­umn

IT AP­PEARS even soc­cer (foot­ball) is con­sid­er­ing some sig­nif­i­cant changes. Marco Van Bas­ten as tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tor of FIFA has raised the pos­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing the player load, chang­ing the shootout rules and even mov­ing to re­move off­side.

He cor­rectly sug­gests soc­cer needs a sin bin (like hockey) for pe­nal­is­ing player fouls and mis­be­haviour. He also had a go at the fact that too of­ten those with money and power make the rules not nec­es­sar­ily for the good of the game. Given FIFA’s re­cent his­tory this would come as no sur­prise.

Watch­ing the start of the fifth edi­tion of the Hockey In­dia League, I mused about what might be the best way for­ward for our game in an en­vi­ron­ment of fierce com­pe­ti­tion for tal­ent.

There was a time when the op­tions for women in sport were sparse but with the growth of women’s foot­ball and cricket and the pro­gres­sive de­vel­op­ment of net­ball the women’s scene is also more crowded. Now in Aus­tralia, Aus­tralian foot­ball and rugby sevens are es­tab­lish­ing a fe­male pres­ence so our sport can­not take for granted its place as an early choice in a nar­row field of women’s team sports.

In the men’s game the com­pe­ti­tion has al­ways been there and our place as a sec­ondary sport­ing choice for many is well es­tab­lished. So what does hockey of­fer as its ad­van­tages?

1. It can be a fam­ily ac­tiv­ity where clubs pro­vide op­por­tu­nity for both sexes, all ages and many lev­els of ca­pac­ity.

2. It is not seen as a path­way to great riches or fame yet it pro­vides op­por­tu­ni­ties for high per­for­mance. For most it is seen as a Corinthian ac­tiv­ity rather than an end in it­self. There is a place for this in a world where recre­ation may be­come more avail­able.

3. Mostly, hockey is not a game in which you are likely to be beaten up and re­quire the phys­i­cal rig­ors of a game such as rugby or Aus­tralian foot­ball. Skill, speed, en­durance and guile are crit­i­cal.

The chal­lenge is to grow and main­tain hockey’s elite com­pe­ti­tions, ex­tend its me­dia pro­file and ap­peal and grow its num­bers and reach. I be­lieve we are truly in an ex­is­ten­tial strug­gle with other sports and there is a need to be smart, flex­i­ble and creative.

The shop win­dow of the sport is the in­ter­na­tional game whether in full in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion or re­gional club com­pe­ti­tions.

These com­pe­ti­tions re­veal the game at the high­est level and are crit­i­cal for the game’s health and fu­ture. The move pro­posed by the In­ter­na­tional Hockey Fed­er­a­tion to play elite home and away games for the top na­tions ought not take the edge off the tra­di­tional in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments.

What it will pro­vide for is “home” games on a reg­u­lar ba­sis that one hopes will pro­vide a rev­enue stream to make an ex­pen­sive pro­posal pos­si­ble.

The FIH are am­bi­tious about what this might bring to the game and has sought to im­prove the game’s mar­ketabil­ity.

In or­der for their pro­posal to work there will need to be will­ing­ness for all na­tional bod­ies to work in the game’s in­ter­ests and forgo some of their lo­cal in­ter­ests. Many of us would love to be privy to the ne­go­ti­a­tions that will be re­quired to progress the new pro­pos­als, which are planned for the first part of 2019. The sched­ul­ing of these changes and the way the game looks in Tokyo will be im­por­tant parts of an emerg­ing ‘shop win­dow’ for our game. It will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see whether the broader in­ter­ests of the game will pre­vail.

What about the pro­pos­als of Van Bas­ten? Will they ben­e­fit foot­ball? I am not so sure. Tak­ing away off­side will just make the game more like Euro­pean hand­ball, which he seeks to avoid. The scor­ing zone will be full of play­ers (all 11 of them) who will build a wall in front of the ball with no space be­hind which off­side af­fords. That change might be counter pro­duc­tive, as it would have been in hockey had we not al­lowed scor­ing with the edge. That was an un­planned and for­tu­itous change that now ac­counts for half the goals scored.

I be­lieve the best move to in­crease more dy­namic play would be to in­tro­duce in­ter­change. I am not con­vinced about quar­ters as this re­moves the at­tri­tional as­pect that can be so in­ter­est­ing. Like­wise, I have al­ways favoured the golden goal be­fore the shootout which is too of­ten the de­cider. Por­tu­gal won the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships with only one full time vic­tory in seven matches!

For hockey I be­lieve the many rule changes in­tro­duced have greatly im­proved the game but the next change I would like to see is a move to 9-a-side in or­der to al­low more space and to make de­fend­ing more dif­fi­cult. This could oc­cur at ev­ery level and if ac­com­pa­nied by a re­quire­ment for one player to stay in the at­tack­ing half means only seven are de­fend­ing. Such a shift re­tains the field di­men­sions and main­tains the tra­di­tional skills yet opens up space. I would love to see our game go there!

Big hit: Un­like Aus­tralian Rules, you are un­likely to be beaten up play­ing hockey

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