Hockey India League: Gone too soon?

International players lament missing out on opportunity to make big money from HIL; league may return to calendar in 2019.

Published: 10th December 2017 09:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th December 2017 09:17 AM   |  A+A-

Action from the match between Spain and Argentina| Shamim Qureshy

Express News Service

BHUBANESWAR: “Sad,” was how one Belgian player put it. “Unfortunate,” was the sentiment of a German player. “Disappointing,” was the one-word reply of an Australian. “Big loss,” was how another German summed it up. They were all talking about the absence of the Hockey India League (HIL) from the calendar in 2018. That the Indian players used HIL as a platform to set-up a more secure future was well-known. Some of the stories have been chronicled on the front-pages of national dailies since the league was created in 2013. Guess what? Even the international stars have stories to tell — of HIL money used for weddings, travelling the world and building dream houses. 

Belgium’s Tom Boon, who went for a record $103,000 to Dabang Mumbai before the start of the 2015 edition, bought an apartment with his earnings. “I picked up lots of things during my time here (in India). It helped with my experience and the money was also pretty good,” he says. “I bought an apartment with it. It is a blow because it gave us (international players) an opportunity to learn more about the country.” 

Germany’s Florian Fuchs, who Mumbai purchased for $96000, at the beginning of the 2016 edition, echoes the same sentiments. “It’s a massive loss. I am sad that it won’t be coming back in 2018. (With the cash) I travelled but I also invested. I am really happy and grateful that I got the chance to earn cash through playing the sport in India.” 

After much confusion about the fate of the league — one of Hockey India’s flagship competitions — the body announced the event would not return in 2018. While a packed calendar (Indoor World Cup, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World Cup) was rumoured to be behind the move, Chinese whispers indicated that franchises were very much in the red. The league, while being credited with India’s resurgence at world level, had never been a money-spinning initiative for the teams and it was understandable when a few of them had had enough. HI also cited the need of a fresh outlook after five years.   

Netherlands’ Sander Baart, who represented UP Wizards for a couple of seasons, understandably doesn’t want to get into the money and profitability aspect of the franchise-based model in India. “HIL is unique in a way because hockey is not really a big sport to make money. When HIL came, it made a big difference. Thanks to them for putting in all the cash so we can have a nice life (laughs).” The 29-year-old, apart from making a base payment for a house with the HIL riches, used some of it for ‘wedding-related expenses’. 

Gonzalo Peillat, another player whose bank balance benefitted thanks to playing in the league (UP Wizards), is already feeling the pinch. Plans to build a house in his native Argentina have been halted. 
“We get good money from it and we can help our families,” he says. “The amount I got wasn’t enough to do much. You have got to save more. The plans (to build a house) are going to be delayed for a couple of years.” 

HI has said that the league could be back as early as November 2019. While this is yet to be set in stone, it will definitely be music to the ears of all the international players whose earnings have jumped in the last five years. Australian goalkeeper Tristan Clemons, Belgium’s Arthur van Doren and Peillat will certainly hope so. All three of them ended their conversations with only one thought. 

Format to stay
The international hockey federation’s (FIH) all-play-quarterfinal format in eight- nation tournaments, including the Hockey World League Final, may not be liked by many teams, but the world body is no mood to tweak it. The FIH has hinted that the upcoming Hockey Series, a new two-level event starting next year, may be played in the same format. This format has come in for criticism from a few teams which failed to progress beyond the last-eight despite topping their groups.


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