The Hockey World League determined the qualifying nations, other than the continental champions and the hosts, for Rio 2016. But with the introduction of FIH Series and FIH Pro League, the road to 2020 Games was relaid with a new format.
While the quota for continental winners and hosts remains in place as before, the qualifiers will be contested among 14 teams spread across seven competitions.
HOW 14 TEAMS MAKE UP THE QUALIFIERS
At its inception, the process involved the below 12 teams fighting for six places in the qualifiers:
1. Hockey Pro League: Four highest-placed teams
2. Hockey Series Finals: Six teams (two highest-placed teams from each of the three events)
3. FIH Rankings: Two highest-placed teams in the world rankings at the end of the continental championships
(If any of the teams in above three cases also qualify as continental champions or as host country, their place will be taken by the next highest-ranked team in the FIH Rankings at the end of continental championships.)
But with Japan qualifying as hosts, and also winning the men’s and women’s Asian Games 2018, it opened an extra quota place in the qualifiers — increasing the number from the earlier six to seven now for both men and women.
This means Japan’s place in the qualifiers will be taken by the next highest-ranked non-qualified team in the FIH Rankings as at the end of the continental championships, taking the number of teams to 13. Because of that, there will be seven qualifying events and another additional place will thus be allocated to the next non-qualified highest-ranked team in the FIH Rankings as at the end of the continental championships. This will take the total number of teams in qualification process to 14.
WHAT ARE 7 QUALIFICATION EVENTS
As explained by FIH, the 14 teams will be drawn in pairs of two to play each other over two matches. The overall winners of the two matches will qualify for the Olympics.
Hence there will be seven pair of teams involved in seven different qualification events.
HOW THE TEAMS WILL BE DRAWN
The FIH qualification process says: “The three highest-ranked teams in the FIH World Rankings as at the end of the 2019 Continental Championships will be drawn at random to play at home against one of the 12th, 13th and 14th-placed teams as at the end of the 2019 Continental Championships.”
And it adds: “The 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th-ranked teams in the FIH World Rankings as at the end of the 2019 Continental Champions will be drawn to play at home against one of the 8th, 9th, 10th or 11th-ranked teams as at the end of the 2019 Continental Championships.”
In simple terms, the seven qualifying events will each feature two nations playing two back-to-back matches. The nation with the highest aggregate score over the two matches in each of those qualifiers will qualify for the Olympics.
If at the end of the two matches, both the teams have the same aggregate score, the winner will be decided by a shoot-out held immediately after the second match.
That will give the Olympics its 12 teams for both men’s and women’s competition: 7 qualifiers, 4 continental winners, 1 host (Japan).
BHUBANESWAR LIKELY TO HOST INDIA’S OLYMPIC QUALIFIER
The Olympic qualifiers are scheduled for October and November 2019, and the matches will be hosted by the higher-ranked of the two competing nations.
With India currently ranked No. 5 on FIH Rankings, it’s likely that they will get to host their Olympic qualifier; and Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium is the front-runner to host that event.
Hockey India (HI) has already proposed the Odisha capital, which also hosted the 2018 men’s World Cup, in its Annual Competitions and Tournament Calendar (ACTC), which is a pre-requisite to get the government’s approval and sanctions for hosting a tournament.
If things go as planned, India may also host the qualifier for its women’s team simultaneously with the men’s event.
The FIH, meanwhile, has already contacted national associations, including HI, to host the Olympic qualifiers.
“For planning purposes, we have recently contacted a number of National Associations likely to host the Olympic qualifiers later this year; Hockey India is one of them,” the FIH said in reply to an e-mail from TimesofIndia.com.
“However, neither dates nor venues for any of the Olympic qualifiers have been confirmed by FIH yet; this will be done at a later stage,” the response from the apex hockey body added.
The continental championships are expected to end by September 8, after which the line-up of 14 qualifiers will be confirmed.
For India, however, the first stop in the road to Tokyo will be the eight-team Hockey Series Final to be played in Bhubaneswar from June 6 to 16. The hosts would want to finish in the top two there for a direct passage to the Olympic qualifiers in October-November.
The other seven teams competing in the tournament will be Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, South Africa, USA and Uzbekistan.