Harpreet Kaur Lamba
The world of field hockey has seen many firsts in the last few years. With sports worldwide undergoing a change and the faster, fitter and shorter versions gripping almost every sport, hockey too has been experimenting to stay relevant and mark its presence in public eye.
Rule changes and format changes — the traditional 70 minutes gave way to 60 and the two halves were changed to four quarters in the recent past in what were one of the most drastic changes that the sport introduced — have been the norm, with the International Hockey Federation (FIH) trying its best to adapt newer methods and keep bringing in innovation.
Last month, the international body kept its experimentation going when the Youth Olympic Games were played in a five-a-side format at Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the hosts winning the girls’ trophy while the boys’ title went to Malaysia. It was the second time that the Youth Olympic Games were played in this format, something that the world body is hoping would help them target fresh audience and reach new places.
Renowned coach Ric Charlesworth of Australia, however, calls it a “mistake”.
“In one word if I have to sum it up: Nuts,” is what one of the most shrewdest brain in the sport has to say about the five-a-side format against the traditional 11-a-side hockey.
Charlesworth, who is currently in India to attend the Ekamra Sports Literature festival in Bhubaneswar — venue for the Hockey World Cup next month — said, “I would still agree with Hockey 9s (nine versus nine) because that still allows you to play on a full field without taking skill out of the game, but 5s will be a bad option,” he said.
“It will be the same mistake that cricket made with T20,” said the coach who led the Kookaburras to an Olympic hockey gold medal in 2004 Athens Olympic Games and is also a former cricketer. He also coached the Australian women’s team to golds at the Olympics in 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games.
Despite the upheaval in world hockey with Argentina winning the Olympic gold medal in 2016 Rio and Belgium finishing as runners-up, Charlesworth still put his money on traditional powerhouses Holland, Germany and Australia to take the trophy home this time.
“My picks for the World Cup winner are the Netherlands, Germany and Australia. They can take home the Cup,” said Charlesworth.
Asked about hosts India, who are currently world no. 5, the former coach said, “I would definitely love to see India win a medal.
“Home advantage always makes a difference. But the other side is that sometimes in India it can be a disadvantage because there will be huge expectations on the Indian team. Things going okay, yes, but it can go either way. But you can say on balance, it’s an advantage.”