With Rs 7.1 million as prize-money on offer and live telecast of matches on ESPN STAR Sports guaranteed, plans are in place for a National Field Hockey League in India.
Announcing the format for the league, to be launched in September, Indian Hockey Federation chief K P S Gill said the move is aimed at boosting the game in the country.
"Since the introduction of astro-turf in 1976 India has struggled at the highest level, finishing between fifth to last spots in the Olympics and World Cups. Hopefully, the NHL will propel us to greater heights on the world stage," Gill said.
As per the proposed format, the league will comprise two tiers. Tier I will be called the Premier Division and Tier II the Second Division. The leagues will follow a round-robin format, with all teams playing each other twice. The winner will be decided on the basis of total points aggregated.
The winner of Tier I will take home Rs. three million while the runner-up will get Rs one million. The winner of Tier II will get Rs 400,000 while the runner up will receive Rs 250,000. Allocation of above prizes between players and the respective associations will be specified by the IHF.
In order to make the game a viewing spectacle, each game will have four quarters of 17 minutes and 30 seconds instead of standard two halves. The concepts of time-outs will be introduced to liven up the game. The winner within the stipulated time will get 3 points for each victory while the team winning in the extra-time will share the points.
"Our effort would be to create an exciting, pacy, hi-energy sports television property, which appeals to our viewers," R C Venkateish, Managing Director, ESPN Software India Pvt Limited, said.
All Tier I matches will be played on Fridays and Saturdays. In the inaugural year, the premier division matches will be played in floodlit stadiums across India, including Hyderabad. Tier I teams will have an option of bringing in a maximum of five foreign players.
All second division matches would be played at various locations across India. The top most team from Tier II will qualify to Tier I while the team finishing at the bottom in the Tier I will be relegated to Tier II.
Every team will have a unique name and identity. Teams will be chosen by the IHF on the merit for the inaugural edition and will function under the aegis of the State bodies affiliated to IHF. Each affiliated unit will manage, regulate and select teams under their jurisdiction.
"The payment will be based on their value. Some Indian players are world class. So they will be paid according to their potential. We are trying to rope in European players although three to four Pakistani players can also play in the NHL," Gill said.
According to Gill, the NHL is packaged in such a way so as to make it click after the failure of several domestic competitions.
"It is almost two years since we have been working on the project. It has to be made commercial. Once you have requisite amount of funds, you can utilise it for development of the game," Gill said.
"National championships [which has not been held for the last four years] are no help to hockey. We don't have any plans to stop it but will continue staging them as a ritual," he said.
There were certain things that Gill preferred not to answer.
Asked whether the players who represent various corporate house in domestic competition would be available for the NHL, Gill said, "It is IHF's internal matter. However, most of the teams playing are associated members of the IHF. We will discuss with them."
He also parried questions about the IHF's source of income even though Venkateish said, "ESPN-Star Sports is ready to provide back up if NHL faces any financial crunch. After all we want the NHL to continue," he said.
On whether the teams can hire foreign coaches, Gill said, "No decision has been made as yet on the issue. We will decide on it later."
According to the list made available by the IHF, the first tier will have teams liker Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Jalandhar and Hyderabad.
Tier Two will have Delhi, Chandigarh, Imphal, Lucknow and Ranchi or Kolkata.
"Players from other regions can also play for these sides," Venkateish said.
So, come September, fixtures between teams like Delhi Dynamos and Bombay Bombers could be on the Indian hockey calendar.