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USA Field Hockey

Weekly Report - June 24, 2013

June 25, 2013, 4:01 p.m. (ET)

USA Field Hockey Weekly-Week of June 24, 2013

Report from Rotterdam In last week’s Weekly, I mentioned I was enroute to Rotterdam, Holland to meet with counterparts from many other hockey nations in a meeting led by the FIH. It was an important meeting dealing with a number of important topics. I reported by email to the USA Field Hockey Board of Directors late last week, and within this Weekly report is a thumbnail of the report made to the Board. Clearly much of the discussion revolved around Olympic Games topics (e.g. what is happening in Rio de Janiero, Brazil relative to hockey…Rio is the home of the 2016 Olympic Games, and, generally, what is going on with Olympic Games program status for hockey beyond 2020. These are topics with massive implications so let’s get to it:

Kelly FAIRWEATHER, the CEO of our international federation, the FIH, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, the home of the International Olympic Committee(IOC), presented the lion’s share of the reports pertaining to Rio and Olympic program sustainability for hockey at the meetings

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    RIO is a challenge. At this point, the hockey venue will be in Diadora...about 15Ks out of RIO. Diadora is principally a military base and there will be a cluster of several sports in that area (a couple are canoe/kayak, equestrian, etcetera). There will be two pitches for competition and a main stadium seating 10,000. It is not built yet and subject to change. There are no hotels in the vicinity, however a high speed road is to be built (which needs a set of borings through mountains in the area which will escalate the cost) that should speed the normal two-hour trip to cover the 15Ks to twenty minutes. The athletes' village will be in RIO so athletes...and all others....will need to be transported via this roadway. The locale is the same as the 2007 Pan American Games, however, the pitches will be new. They are scheduled to be built by next March and there is some concern of when or even how to schedule test matches/events. Additionally, two training pitches will be built near the airport which is around 30Ks from RIO.

Currently RIO is 15,000 short in needed hotel rooms to accommodate administrators and support staff, and also considerably short on hotel rooms period so cruise ships will be brought in. Ticket prices have not yet been established. The current social unrest from the middle classes that are slowly slipping back into poverty are considered to be a short term concern by the FIH as all Olympic Games are presented with a variety of protests due to the costs of putting the Games on, and the disruption of daily life. In the Brazilian case, there is considerable concern from the citizenry about the expense associated with building venues while fundamental services are being given a short shrift. Also, their economy seems to be slipping after massive growth in the recent past.

So, RIO will bear watching. But, all Olympic Games, by this time in their development, are generally behind or have several sets of major issues to deal with. But, in the end, the Olympic Games are typically all successful and we expect the same in Brazil.

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    Hockey’s Status on the Olympic Games Program (program meaning sports included on the Olympic schedule) This is an issue that can be a little more sensitive than the RIO issue mentioned first in this report, but both issues sort of overlay each other. You all will recall that hockey was on the cusp of elimination from the Olympic program after a vote to downsize the number of core sports was taken earlier by the IOC's executive committee. At that meeting, wrestling was recommended for removal, and hockey was next in line. Today the general opinion in Olympic circles seems to be that in the upcoming IOC general assembly that wrestling will likely be retained and placed back onto the program as that sport has made big changes and generally has pleased the deciders within the IOC. The final vote will be taken later this year. Still, the vote outcome is unknown and we may find that the outcome may not be as speculated today. Unfortunately for hockey, the data collected by the IOC, principally at the London Olympic Games, does not provide for long term positive outcomes for the sport unless changes are made or, at least, changes that have already occurred be made known to the IOC. However, we are very likely safe through the 2020 timeframe and maybe beyond that if changes are surely made.

The IOC has long been known as being political, and success within the Olympic movement is created by having relationships that have been built over many years. Political is not really a bad term as it really means an ability to work successfully with other people. There is another reality. And, that is unless a sport has people in power positions, the sport is very much at the mercy of those trying to maintain their own sports' preservation. A good example is the retaining of Modern Penthalon onto the program, a sport that nearly everyone anticipated being removed. It was retained due to the power/influence of former IOC President Juan Samaranch's son, who is on the IOC executive committee. Wrestling seemed a soft target as that sport was without representation at the highest levels. By the way, hockey has no representation at the IOC level (i.e. no IOC members).

The IOC is very clever as it collects data on each sport. Whilst hockey had great ticket sales in London, almost every other sport did as well. Going forward, a big concern is to maintain momentum in RIO, something that will be quite difficult for hockey as hockey is not a mainstay sport in that country. The IOC has created six categories that are their measuring sticks for each sport. None has to do with athletic prowess. The categories are fan and commercially based.

Taking a look at the data as prepared by the IOC is a presentation of a somewhat challenging picture. Television is particularly troubling for us as viewerage was limited to only a few minutes by the average hockey viewer watching the London Olympic Games, and there were far too many matches of no significance (i.e. classification matches). Viewers felt we needed a quarter-finals as well as the semi-finals and finals to give the games some lift, and to eliminate classification matches as they were meaningless to the lay viewer. Additionally, there is a big play to involve athletes in a more personal way. For instance, interviews right before matches, connecting microphones on coaches and athletes, more split screen interpretations of the sport explaining technical details as they take place and also, hooking up video-replay officials for viewers to listen in as they make decisions and interpret how those decisions are made. The idea is to create a more intimate involvement with the sport instead of the provision of what is perceived as a bland presentation of the game meant to please only those who are followers of the sport. There was a constant reference to the IOC's desire to provide entertaining television programming in this highly information-hungry era.

The two major measuring sticks of the six used by the IOC were television and internet capabilities. The others were important but were weighted significantly lower than television and the internet.

A couple of further comments did juxtapose within the conversation. One was “Is the sport understood by typical viewers watching via television or other electronic media.” No generally is the answer regarding hockey. The need to simplify rules, and/or to provide proper and easily understood interpretation is critical. There was some talk of a format change (e.g. 5v5), but the FIH feels that the established 11v11 standard should be maintained.

The big message is to maintain a sport that is highly entertaining and easy to understand. If we do that and by doing that appeal to the mainstream we will be in a good place. The FIH is doing substantial work to help comply with the identified IOC needs and we left the meeting having great confidence that we will see hockey retain its position as a core IOC sport on the Olympic program and additionally many beneficial improvements will be seen in the game to attract a large audience.

One final comment is that inclusion onto the Olympic program is massively important. To be on the program provides a sport credibility and a real end game for athletes to achieve. It lights a fire for millions of youngsters encouraging them to participate in sport. It is an absolute necessity for this sport.

2012 USA Field Hockey Annual Report is Complete Ashley Meunier, USA Field Hockey Communications Manager, has completed the assembly of the annual report. It is a magnificent piece. You can view it by clicking here, and, if you are a member, you will receive it directly sent to your email address. Thanks, Ashley, for a super presentation.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: “Kim Kardashian says she wants to keep her new baby out of the public eye. In fact, the E! network is developing a new show called, "Keeping the Baby Out of the Public Eye With the Kardashians."

Have a great week!

Steven Locke
Executive Director
USA Field Hockey

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