To HIL or not to HIL? That is the question…

final hero HIL logoThe Hero Hockey India League will start its third season in a couple of weeks. But its auction and the decision of players to join or not has been and is a topic of discussion long before the first whistle is blown. At least in both hockey countries I am most familiar with, The Netherlands & Belgium…

It is becoming an increasing problem to reconcile the intense European hockey competitions with both national team programs and other international events like the HIL and as such might become a source of problems between players, coaches, clubs and federations. Most, if not all, will agree the HIL is a welcome initiative to promote our game on an international level and to strengthen its roots in a very important country for our sport, India. Still, parties not involved directly with the HIL also have their own interests to defend and especially national team coaches will insist on the priority that has to be given to the programme of their national team. Especially those coaches from countries with strong domestic competitions are having a hard time managing their national team training sessions and camps.

The club scene in Europe is the foundation of the game for us in this continent and their competitions are extremely important for a lot of the international top players. But we might have to consider its current organisation might not be the best to combine with the increasing demands of international hockey. The level the game is being played at by the top nations demands a professional commitment, nothing less. So this means you only have so many possibilities to organise the sport.

  1. We could put all our trust in the government, have them employ our best athletes full time from the time young talents start growing and with a fair pension agreement for when they are no longer able to contribute to the game. There are obviously countries/regions in the world where this works but Europe is not one of these…
  2. We could encourage our athletes to combine their sporting career with regular studies or guide them to suitable internships preparing them for a “regular” career afterwards. More or less what we are used to in our parts of the world for our game of hockey… But however you look at it, this model will cost you at international level. You can’t have it all…
  3. Or the third (and last?) option would be to allow/expect them to sacrifice everything for their sport, live their life 110% devoted to the sport from a young age until they are not up to the top level anymore. A model that is often being adopted by the “bigger” sports, but they also provide their athletes with the means to support this choice…

innovation-ballThe game of hockey has been growing in our parts of the world these last years. And when we agree the first model is not really something that suits our western way of life, we must agree it is becoming more and more difficult to stick with our familiar model combining sports & studies/careers. The FIH is changing the global competitions to also suit other world regions where there is no culture of sport clubs and its competitions. And we will have to adapt to keep up with the pace. However this issue came up a year ago already and 12 months later not much has changed or not much has been communicated about necessary changes. Most likely the ideal solution for us in Europe would be somewhere in between the 2nd and 3rd model from above. But whatever the solution the federations will come up with, there will be less time available for the club competitions as we know them. Because national teams will need their minimum amount of time in the year calendar and they will have to share that calendar with the existing club competitions as we know them and in the future (read today) also with international short and professional events such as the HIL. Unfortunately my wishlist for 2014 (click here) has remained unanswered… Maybe 2015 will bring a solution?

Because according to me… “To HIL or not to HIL” is no question at all, the HIL is a part of hockey’s future!

Ernst Baart

Twitter: @ebaart

Originally published at (

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