Even if the national teams are the leaders of the discipline, the Top hockey league reaffirms the importance of the clubs and points out its priorities for the coming seasons.
After the Olympic coronation conquered this summer by the Red Lions in Tokyo, Belgian hockey is well aware that it cannot under any circumstances rest on its laurels to maintain its lead and its aura at the world level. But to achieve this, decision-makers active in our country must continue to think, work and innovate to stay on top. A healthy ambition fully assumed by Cédric Deleuze, president of the Top hockey league (THL), who lists the four priorities of the ASBL which brings together and represents all the clubs of the Honorary Division – ladies and gentlemen ( 18 teams currently).
Protect the Belgian championship and its calendar
For several seasons, it has been the number 1 point of discussion between clubs, national associations, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) and its European counterpart (EHF). The arrival of the Pro League in 2019 has not simplified the life of the calendar committees in countries where domestic competition retains more than ever a prominent place. “Since last May, we have gathered within the Echo (European hockey clubs organization) with the Dutch, German, Austrian and Spanish associations”, specifies the Brussels resident, who succeeded Fabrice Rogge, last May.
“We want to constitute a counter-power which can weigh on the next evolutions of the calendar. And, in Belgium, we want to keep a linear formula with 22 days and a minimum of double weekends. The danger is that we will impose certain decisions on us in the future. The European Federation is thus preparing a new formula for EHL and we are participating in the discussions. This new format would involve more meetings with more clubs. It is therefore essential that we are associated with the reflection around the calendar and the organization. “
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Have the best championship in the world
Since the start of the season, the figures speak for themselves. Never before has the national competition seemed so open and the level so balanced between the twelve clubs of the elite. But for this to continue, we must avoid letting our guard down. “We have chosen the right formula and it proves its worth every weekend”, rejoices Cédric Deleuze. “The spectacle is present on the pitch, but we must also put everything in place to ensure that the championship is efficient at all levels. The athlete is capital, as is the dynamism around the competition or the welcome that we must offer our partners. Clubs must continue to develop and provide a real experience when it comes to attending a meeting. And I repeat, the subject of paid entries is not yet on the table of the THL. “
And for the championship to be as competitive as possible, it is also necessary to rely on quality refereeing. “We invited Laurent Colemonts to our meeting on December 1st. We want to compare our experience with his, while trying to identify avenues for reflection for the future. It is true that we are seeing a lack of consistency in the quality of refereeing this season. We must therefore help the arbitration unit and assume our responsibilities in this matter. “
Always more hockey on television
For the 7th consecutive season, the Honorary Division is broadcast on sports packages every weekend. A necessity to continue to occupy the media space, even if the Top hockey league has reviewed its economic model this season. “We are now producers of matches with DB Video and Golazo, and we sell a finished product to Proximus, Telenet and Voo. It was our desire to have control over the entire product. And this model is more profitable financially for all the games, with a cost per season of 400,000 euros excluding VAT for 28 games. Today, the clubs no longer have to fund anything. It is an income-generating model with real potential for the future. “
Beside that, the THL also wants to ensure wider coverage for women’s hockey. The contract with BX1, which broadcasts the match of a Brussels club every Sunday, could resonate with another broadcaster and allow more women’s matches to be broadcast from the start of the second round, next February.
Continue to subscribe to the values
But these goals cannot be achieved without maintaining a deep respect for the very essence of the discipline. “We must continue to embed the championship in the values of respect and fair play”, concludes Cédric Deleuze. “This is what makes our sport different. Hockey has to be popular, but not at any cost. We must support the new members – just like the old ones, for that matter – and perpetuate the chains of transmission. We must also rely on the Lions and the Panthers, who must assume their role as role models and be irreproachable examples on the pitch. “
By Laurent Toussaint - Le Soir