Hockey India league is back in 2024

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Hockey India (HI) has decided to revive the Hockey India league (HIL) after a gap of seven years. A window has been tentatively fixed between December ’24 and January ’25.

Picture Courtesy Hockey India

Under the leadership of Dilip Tirkey, there is hope that this new version, with 8 men’s and 6 women’s teams, will further ignite the growing passion for the national sport. At this point, it is important that we recollect the ‘churning of the ocean’ that has happened in Indian hockey over the past 20 years.

Professional Hockey League Started Before IPL

Many would not believe, if I told that India had a professional hockey league before cricket had the Indian premier league (IPL). Well, it was those days when Star sports was called ESPNStar. Hockey in India was run by the Indian hockey federation (IHF). The Premier hockey league (PHL) was launched by ESPNStar and IHF and it ran for 4 seasons. Then the Jothikumaran scandal happened

Kanwar Pal Singh (aka KPS) Gill who had been running the IHF for 14 years from 1994 was thrown out, the Indian Olympic association disbanded the IHF and with that, the PHL ceased to exist.

But this was not the worst thing to happen to Indian hockey in 2008. Years of mismanagement and failure to catch up with the professionalism of the modern game led to the Chilean catastrophe.

When Indian Men Didnt Make it To Olympics 
Picture Courtesy Hockey India

The once giant of world hockey- winner of 8 Olympic golds– had failed to qualify for Beijing 2008 and it felt like, all was ‘doom and gloom’ for hockey in India. For people like me, who have only read about our glory days, it was the lowest point as a hockey fan.

Times did not get much better from 2010 to 2016. In the 2012 Olympics, the men’s team finished last. In 2016, we were eighth. Amidst the mayhem, there were some positives like the gold in the 2014 Asiad, but overall it felt like, we were clearly many rungs below the top tier.

Amidst such turbulent times in 2009, Hockey India (HI) was formed and today it has the sole mandate to govern and organise all things related to Indian hockey. It has not been a smooth ride for Hockey India by any means. There was a period when there was a tug of war between HI and IHF for running the reins; there was even a league called World series hockey (WSH), organised by IHF in 2012, which went on for a grand total of 1 season.

HIL was Launched in 2013

WSH must have woken up Hockey India and they decided to organise their own professional league in 2013. The Hockey India league (HIL) was launched in 2013 with 5 teams– Delhi, Mumbai, Punjab, Ranchi and Uttar Pradesh. Odisha was added to the fold in 2014.

Picture Courtesy The Statsman

The league had a lot of great moments; it was the first time we got to get a glimpse of the current Indian stars. There were legends like Teun de Nooijer, Florian Fuchs and Gonzalo Peillat. However, the financial model was just not sustainable- even though the administrators would like to claim otherwise

I feel, 2016 was a major inflection point for Indian hockey.Our juniors won the 2016 world cup and this launched the careers of the current core of the senior men’s national team- Harmanpreet, Sumit, Mandeep, Gurjant.

A lot of things have changed between the last season of the HIL (2017) and now. Our men’s team won an Olympic medal after a gap of 41 years in Tokyo. The FIH pro league happened and is loved by everyone. Odisha and Jharkhand have become nerve centres of Indian hockey. Most of the hockey world knows Sundergarh and Simdega.

N. D. Batra is gone and we have Dilip Tirkey now. There will be a women’s league too. Last time around, there was no team from south India and with 8 teams, that should definitely change.

More importantly, between now and December, there is the small matter of the 2024 Olympics and we have great expectations from Harmanpreet, Craig Fulton and team. A great performance from the team at Paris would be the ideal launchpad for the HIL; somewhat similar to what the 2007 T20 world cup win did to the IPL.

All wishes to the Hockey India League 2024 a grand success. As fans, win or lose, we will be there.

Written By Sundaram

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