Bhubaneswar: The new format of the Champions Trophy might have come in for criticism from some coaches but International Hockey Federation President Leandro Negre on Saturday defended it, saying that increasing the number of teams to eight has raised television viewership of the tournament.
Negre also made it clear that the rule and format changes the game has witnessed in the recent past have been driven by TV ratings.
"I'm in full support to have Champions Trophy with eight teams. All of you need to understand our strategy. If you want to promote hockey, you just can't limit a tournament to the top teams in the world. This format gives more opportunities. We need to open hockey to the world. I'm really glad with the results of the quarterfinals," Negre said at a press conference at Kalinga Stadium here.
Till 2010, six best teams of the world used to participate in the prestigious Champions Trophy but from 2012 edition in Melboure onwards, the FIH introduced the eight-team format by allotting wild card entries to lower-ranked teams -- India and Pakistan.
He said to promote hockey, FIH needs to "sell" the game.
"I think we need to make changes. I am quite sure all of you will agree that the changes we have made are for the best of hockey. The new rules are much better than how we used to play 4 years ago. I also know that by introducing too many changes we can have confusions, but if we have a good idea I think we need to implement that," he said.
"We need to make hockey very attractive for television. Now we have more followers than before. At different countries in different competitions we are using different rules and regulations and I think at one moment we need to unify these rules. But in principle we are in favour of making changes if these changes develop our game," the FIH chief said.
Not long ago, hockey was under threat to be axed from the Olympic programme and that may have given a wake-up call to FIH to find ways to raise the popularity of the game through television by changing rules and formats.
The FIH then made hockey a 60-minute affair of four 15-minute quarters replacing the two 35-minute. The world body also made the elite Champions Trophy an eight-team competition from a six-team tournament with all eight teams ensured of a quarterfinal berth.
And, Negre had no hesitation in saying that it was done to keep broadcasters, TV viewers and media of all the nations involved till the last minute.
"We have a strategic plan and that is to sell hockey. We can?t think only about the technical aspect. Television requires us to have stops because it is very important for the players as well as the viewers. We need money to develop hockey. I must say I am really surprised that quarters have been introduced after so many years," he said about the four quarter format.
"We need to show the emotions of the players in television. Television demands that. We implemented these breaks really to promote our sport."
Questioned about the change of format in the Champions Trophy, Negre said, "Before the competitions committee makes any proposal to the executive board about any rule changes, it goes to various other committees like the athletes committee, umpires committee, high performance committee etc. In the high performance committee there are very good and experienced coaches to advise us.
"If after some days of competition four teams are eliminated that means four countries are out, four television networks are out, press covering the four countries are completely out. That is not promotion of hockey. We at FIH love to give a team opportunity till the last moment. We need to sell our television rights," he said.
The FIH chief also hinted that the 2018 World Cup to be hosted by India might be held in multiple venues, most likely two.
"I want to India to be the first country that can run the World Cup at various venues. We are pushing to have two venues for the World Cup," Negre said.
"The main idea behind that is to put hockey where the spectators are and not ask spectators to come and see hockey. I think we can make hockey more popular through this way. For the 2016 WC, there will 16 teams pooled into four groups. We want two groups to play in one city and the other two at another city.
"Currently, when we have matches at just one venue, broadcasters feel it?s too cramped a schedule. In November next year, we will take a decision," he said.