Whats going on in the FIH? Is bankruptcy a real possibility?

In today’s world if you ask too many questions you can find yourself in trouble, as many in authority are loathe to give answers.

Yet if you hold a position of trust and authority and you fail to ask questions you too can find yourself in trouble.

In fact in many countries at Board level the failure of a Board member to question, and have minuted their objections can result in them being held accountable if there is a problem. Silence, even in minutes, is deemed to be agreement with a decision.

It is pleasing to hear that in the world of Hockey those in authority have taken responsibility to ask questions which may cause some pain, but which will ultimately secure the game’s future.

As reported back on this site in December the International Hockey Federation has witnessed a mass exodus of senior staff in recent times, including the CEO; although an official press release has still not been sent out, and he along with other departed staff remain listed on the organisation’s website.(Who’s Left)

Head hunters have been tasked with finding a new CEO and an announcement is expected this month, with many hoping that the sport employs from outside the game a person with no affiliations to any sections of the game. Yet that is for the future, what is important is the present.

A letter has emerged that has been sent to Chair of the FIH Governance Panel, by the Chair of the Hockey Pro League and counter signed by members of the Pro League Management Panel. This letter sent on the 27th of February is requesting “an independent investigation relating to the signing of a contract on behalf of the FIH that we have been informed could jeopardise the implementation of the Hockey Pro League and potentially lead to bankruptcy.”

This is an explosive development. It is a development that cannot be ignored and the authors of the letter are to be applauded for penning it. They clearly care not only for the future of the Pro League, but also the future of the game.

The letter advises that the information was disclosed during a meeting on 1st February 2018 and was “confirmed in an email and Broadcast report that was sent to the LMP members and to some FIH Executive Board Members by email on 19th of February 2018.”

The issue outlined in the letter concerns the contract between the FIH and Star Sports in India, in which it is claimed “that the FIH will ensure that India will participate in the Hockey Pro League… and that “the FIH will use its best endeavours to ensure the participation of Pakistan.”

If true this is extremely concerning as it brings into question the whole selection process for the Pro-League. Not only that, it rightly or wrongly puts those on the selection committee in a very difficult position, as now questions will be asked as to how much information was shared with them, and did any of them know the content of the television contracts that had been lined up in various countries should they be selected to participate in the Pro League? Did the Committee ask the right questions and were those questions recorded in any minutes of their meetings?

This committee was made up of some very respected and distinguished individuals and they now find themselves in a very awkward position.

Australian barrister Ken Read was the Chair of the Selection committee, and was joined by the former CEO Jason McCracken, and three Board Members Marijke Flueren, Coco Budeisky and Annie Panter. There was one independent person invited to be a part of the process, Josh Smith who worked for BT Sport at the time, but has now taken on a role at FIFA as Director of Television Services.

Former FIH staffers David Luckes and Sarah Massey were also a part of the Event Portfolio Implementation Panel along with current employee Mathilde Grenet.

It is believed that all received copies of the applications to be a part of the Pro League from the various National Associations. In addition to these applications supplementary information was supplied on each application, and that included some information on the broadcast agreements. It is understood that they were not shown the actual contracts that had been negotiated.

However with the former CEO being a part of the Selection Committee, it is fair to presume that he would have been aware of the content of these contracts, as it is alleged that he was in fact the man authorised to sign the contracts.

The members of the Selection Committee now find themselves in the unenviable position of people wanting to know what information they were given and what was withheld.  Who if anyone on the Committee viewed the contracts? Or was it just the CEO who had access to that information?

As those on the Pro League Management Panel state in their letter “all National Associations were consistently told that the bid procedure for the HPL was going to be fair and that applications were being treated equally, this was verbally communicated to us on several occasions and in written correspondence from the FIH. Clearly the signing of the Star contract during the bid process contradicts that commitment to fairness and equality.”

That said, one can understand Star Sports perspective. If they are to invest in such a league they would want their two biggest viewer drawcards to be a part of it, and to ensure that this was the case for it to make business sense to be involved. Hence they would have wanted that guarantee before signing up or at least a clause that released them from the contract if one or neither were in the Pro-League.

What these developments do explain is why at the start of December it was reported that India, having been selected to be a part of the Pro League and then withdrawn, had the FIH re-open the doors of the league to India despite the nine-team line-up in both men and women being completed way back in July.  Spain and Belgium were included as respective replacements in the Men’s and Women’s competitions.

“The FIH would be delighted to have India as part of the Pro League. The doors are open now but there are some challenges.” The then CEO Jason McCracken was quoted as saying in the Indian press. Maybe these “challenges” are only becoming clear now.

As this situation appears to have only just come to light thanks to the “Broadcast Report” mentioned in the letter, the Pro League Management Panel are right to have requested a full independent investigation. There has to be transparency, and those who made decisions in good faith on the make up of the Pro League deserve to find out what information was withheld from them. They should not be castigated before we find out what information was, and was not shared with them.

Just as the Pro-League management panel should be praised for bringing this matter to light, so too should the FIH Board be praised as it is understood at a meeting on Friday they accepted and agreed that a full investigation should be carried out to protect the integrity of the organisation and the Pro-League.

Where does this leave the Pro-League which is due to commence in January 2019? Who knows? The schedule has come out, the television stations are locked in, but depending on the findings of the independent investigation and how quickly those findings are reached, there may be some nations who feel that they will be entitled to challenge the decisions made.

Haste is the key. The investigation needs to be underway as soon as possible and there needs to be full disclosure on which current allegations, if any, prove to be true and which are not.

This is also important in terms of the reputations of those who were on the Selection Committee, as if information was withheld from them they cannot be held accountable in any way, especially if they asked pertinent questions and those questions have been minuted.

The Hockey Public deserve a swift explanation in relation to the point made in the letter that the FIH could potentially find itself bankrupt. This word understandably has many worried, and asking how this can be so?

Hopefully a press statement will be issued in the next few days advising a course of action and allaying the fears of fans, players, coaches and national associations as to the financial state of the game’s governing body.

As a matter of principle, FIH does not comment on internal correspondence and documents of confidential nature. However, we can confirm that the FIH Governance Panel has received the letter and is looking into the matter.

Ashley Morrison | Not The Footy Show

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