“ProLeague is killing hockey”

“I don’t know which brilliant mind made this [Pro League] plan but the person should be banned from hockey” – Siegfried Aikman is never one to mix his words but do you agree with the Dutch great?

Bhubaneshwar: There was a moment during Japan’s match against South Africa that encapsulated head coach Siegfried Aikman’s personality. The Dutchman is usually pensive in the dugout, but when things are not going as per the plan, he doesn’t think twice before showing his frustration.

Japan were leading by a goal in the first half, and were doing well to deny South Africa any sort of freedom in the attacking half. But Aikman was not happy with the play and he showed his emotions by throwing his hat down in anger. He ensured the players on the bench get a view of his exasperation.

“We have some appointments in the team. Players know what to do. If they repeatedly don’t do it, I get frustrated. And it’s about discipline. If we want to make the next step, we have to show that discipline, especially on those valuable moments. My players on the bench, they have to see that I’m not happy because if they don’t see it, they won’t change their behaviour,” Aikman told Firstpost after Japan beat South Africa 2-0 in their Pool B match.

Under Aikman, Japan won gold at the Asian Games in Jakarta last year, thereby qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. Being the hosts, Japan had already booked a spot in the Olympics, but the Asian Games gold medal justified their place in the elite tournament.

But Aikman, who has been coaching Japan since 2017 in his second stint with the country, is not happy with the direction international hockey is heading. He doesn’t mince words when asked about FIH Pro League and its impact on the game.

“My thoughts on the Pro League is that matches are fantastic but it is eating hockey. It’s killing hockey. With the ranking points, it doesn’t encourage countries to invest because the top eight are Pro League teams and we will get fewer points, ” Aikman said.

“Which tournaments do we have? And then in the future, it will be an invitational tournament. Who do they invite to come? The top teams, so how do we get points to close the gap?” Aikman asked.

The FIH Pro League was introduced this year where top eight teams compete in a round-robin format with home and away matches. The tournament started in January and will run till the end of June with top four teams qualifying for the semi-finals. The event also serves as a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the four best teams making to the final round of qualifiers and it also has more ranking points.

“I don’t know which brilliant mind made this plan but the person should be banned from hockey because it’s making hockey less popular. And by the way, all the countries can’t pay all the costs of Pro League because, in the past, you pay the money and play in the tournament. But now you have to travel for months. Where do we get the money? Hockey is a small sport,” Aikman said in an irritating tone.

India refused to participate in the first edition as the federation thought the chances of making it to the Olympics are higher with the FIH World Series event. But in April this year, Hockey India confirmed that the men’s team will join the league next year.

While Pro League gives the opportunity to teams to play quality opponents for a period of six months, there’s a strong case that other lower-ranked teams miss out on chances to improve and develop. The fact that it’s an invitational tournament and there’s no guarantee that the lower-ranked teams will feature in the future Pro League events. This makes elite-level hockey an exclusive club and Aikman says as it is.

“It is. It is. And that’s why I said it’s killing hockey. It’s a Trojan horse,” Aikman said.

“How can you do that with an invitational tournament? What right does India have to join and others don’t? Money? Is that it? If you want to do it, do it on a proper basis, but don’t invite the country just because of the money.”

With South Africa struggling with form, Japan were the favourites to top their Pool in Bhubaneswar and qualify directly for the semis. They had to win their match against the US team that beat higher-ranked South Africa in the first match and then thrashed Mexico 9-0.

But things didn’t go as per plan for Aikman as Japan drew their match against the US and will now have to play the crossover match against the third-ranked team in Pool A to make it to the semis. Before the match, Aikman stressed on the importance of not taking any opponents lightly and how not always the best team ended up winning the match.

“I never take an opponent lightly. In nowadays hockey, you just can’t. A lucky strike and you’re out. I saw South Africa vs USA, South Africa was much better but then USA scored and South Africa were desperately looking for an equaliser and then the next goal came (USA beat SA 2-0). That’s hockey, that’s the sport and that’s what makes the sport so exciting.”

As expected, Japan dominated the proceedings but it was the US team that scored the first goal. Pressure was on Japan as they had to win the match and a draw will push them to the second place in their Pool. The US team scored once again in the final quarter to take lead and thereby making it tougher for Japan to clinch the match. Aikman’s side equalised in the final minute of the match but now they have to play one more tricky match to qualify for last-four


5 thoughts on ““ProLeague is killing hockey””

  1. Obviously the pro-league is an experimental format to try and get more hockey at the highest level in front of the greatest amount of audience possible, its an experiment in getting crowds to games. The FIH knows that to keep hockey in the Olympics they have to get fans on the ground at games, TV in itself is not enough with no crowds we are going to Japan and we cannot count on Domestic crowds they dont have a big enough domestic game so people have to come from around the world to watch the tournament and the only way to attract people to spend that money is to attract them to live hockey as much as possible. Quid pro quo – you play high class hockey in front of them.

    As far other teams to advance themselves what is the world expected to do to give them a hand up. Theres several to many solutions nothing will work overnight. Japan should have played in something like the Australian hockey league (the state based teams of Australia) and they could have been exposed to the highest ranked players and also have the opportunity to play 2nd and 3rd string players and have a full 12 week period of playing to lift their game, better to have spent their money like that than a 5 game tournament would be my view.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aikman is right, the reply from Greaves is unfounded. You’re talking about getting players to the grounds, have you seen the pathetic amount of people watching in New Zealand? Even Belgium against The Netherlands in Antwerp wasn’t sold out. No this is a farce and based on the needs of the Olympics Committee to see more spectators at games? Who are we playing this game for? Why do we get involved? So that a few countries can get to the Olympics? And 4 women teams go for three medals? Of which two will go to the Netherlands and Argentina, and Australia, germany and GB going for the last medal (i’m not talking about the colour of it). It has become more of an elite sport than it was back 30 years ago. FIH has elimated certain countries to enter (Ireland women who came second in last years World Cup, French men who did very well on the world stage). The last 3-4 years the FIH committees have done the sport no favours.


  3. Take a look at all sport: there is an elite competition that has been formed (super rugby / NRL / NFL / UCI PRO TOUR to name a few)
    These competitions have taken their sport to a higher level, the competition receive higher viewing figures and increased sponsorship through the way they have developed it. The best example we look to is F1 – where a big constructer / manufacturer competition has been roped in together to create the pinnacle of motor sport, yes other motor sport survives, but F1 is the pinnacle because 1 person took it and formed it to be. What I’m trying to get at is that if hockey wants to be as big as it can be it needs a super elite- week on week competition to generate the interest from spectators and sponsors (build it – and they will come theory).
    As a life long hockey player/fan – from NZ , I am loving this Pro league, it may take time to build its status, but think big, it could be as big as super rugby / Heineken cup / 6 nations. The game has developed to be more spectator friendly and the goals and skills from the players are sublime. Yes bring in India and Pakistan and Japan, get them involved, raise the bar in these nations and watch the game grow, flourish and expand. And keep it going as women and men- this is where the other sports have missed opportunity (F1 – very few female drivers / cycling is only now realising the benefits of promoting women’s racing)
    So get in behind it, think BIG!


    1. what a load of baloney! Just because you have established a pro-league doesn’t mean you’re going to have the same results. ALL these organisations have a serious fan-base. Any team playing in those leagues are guaranteed money from sponsor and broadcast rights. With the pro-league it is exaclty the other way around, here you need to bring a tone-load of money with you in order be even CONSIDERED one of the teams. Tell me why are New Zealand in this competition? Why not Ireland? They have done better than the black-sticks in recent events. They have submitted an application to be considered. Maybe too many European teams in this competition? Whatever the choice of the FIH, but have you seen the few hundred spectators in New Zealand? And i’m not here to sh%t all over NZ but i’m just taking this country as an example that this ’tournament’ is a political and organisational (miss-managment and vision) disaster. The stronger counties (not based on world ranking) who have political influence and money can ‘join’ this venture, where other nations are just shut out of the competition. (look at India, there isn’t even a chance to get in without bribing the FIH).


      1. You speak a big game but you are the one speaking a load of non-sense, for example India were in the proleague competition and pulled out with only 2 months to go to compete i the FIH qualifying tournament instead as they felt they had a better chance of winning that competition and get a certain entry to the Olympics.

        Your level of knowledge about what is actually happening and agreement with the complaints of the coach of the Japanese team who could not get his team included in the pro-league and is a professional whinger is a fools expedition since you have taken to calling other people names in your replies.


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